6 Foods to Fuel Your Brain

by in Back to School, Healthy Tips, August 18, 2009

Scrambled Eggs over Asparagus
Whether you’re heading back to classes or to work after a vacation, you might need a brain boost. Instead of overdosing on coffee or jittery energy drinks, here are some fresh foods to help keep your brain in top shape.

1) Spinach & Other Leafy Greens
Green leafy veggies — spinach, kale, arugula, romaine lettuce and Swiss chard — are packed with vitamins A, C, calcium, iron and many disease-battling phytochemicals. According to a recent study, men and women who chow down on 3 servings of these vegetables daily show better long-term mental acuity than those with a single serving or less (a serving is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked). Their healthier brains functioned as well as someone 5 years younger!

GET SOME: Salads and sandwiches are easy options. Wilt handfuls into pasta or rice dishes or add them to an omelet. For a simple side, saute hardy greens like kale and chard with olive oil, salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon juice.

2) Eggs
Eggs are a top source for good-for-you protein and their yolks contain some iron and heart-friendly omega-3 fats. They also sport two powerful antioxidants: lutein, which benefits eyesight (something you might need after staring at a computer), and choline, which plays an important role in your brain’s development, nerve transmission and memory.

GET SOME: Make a quiche or frittata for dinner or grab a hard-boiled egg as an evening snack — it’ll satisfy any late-night urges and the extra protein will make you feel fuller longer.

3) Salmon
There aren’t too many things wrong with salmon. It’s tasty, low in mercury, often a sustainable choice and high in protein and omega-3 fats. Those fats, especially “DHA” (the kind found in fish), are vital for boosting brain development, improving function and decreasing inflammation.

GET SOME: To keep it simple, grill or roast salmon and add it to a salad (a double brain whammy with the leafy greens). Or get more adventurous with salmon burgers or breaded and baked fish sticks.

4) Berries
Take your pick — raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and even cherries. Some research supports a connection between berries’ antioxidants and improving short-term memory (a must-have in college during exam time). There’s nothing conclusive yet, but taking advantage won’t hurt — especially while they’re in season now.

GET SOME: Skip the chips and nibble on these when you’re up late working. Drop a handful of berries into oatmeal, cold cereal, yogurt, smoothies and salads for a smart start.

5) Oatmeal
Breakfast is a very important meal; without the fuel it provides, your brain and metabolism can’t get going and you’ll feel sluggish all day. Oatmeal is a quick pick, easily flavored and filled with whole grains. The healthy carbohydrates from oatmeal (and other whole grains) are our brain’s primary energy source – plain and simple, no carbs equals no brainpower!

GET SOME: Doctor up plain instant oatmeal with fruit, maple syrup or honey. Or make a large batch the night before and store in the fridge — a quick zap in the microwave and it’s ready!

6) Broccoli
Women who eat more cruciferous veggies — like broccoli and cauliflower — show slower mental decline as the years tick by, according to research. Better still, they are full of fiber and vitamins C and E.

GET SOME: Raw with some low-fat dip or hummus is easy. Try steaming or stir-frying to bring out the flavor; the quick cooking, meanwhile, preserves the nutrients. For a sweet, nutty flavor, roast pieces in a 400-degree oven.

Brain Zappers to Avoid
High-fat packaged snacks, fried foods and other calorie-laden choices (late-night pizza run, anyone?) are tempting, but these foods will only fill you up (too much) and slow you down. You’ll feel sleepy, especially if you indulge towards the end of the day. In fact, a new study suggests that fatty foods can bog down your short-term memory — no good if you’re in the middle of exams or a big project.

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Comments (22)

  1. brnmalecatt says:

    you are all right. But that bacon and coffee in the morning, MMMMMMM

  2. Emelle says:

    we are what we eat! At 57 years old I have no blood pressure issue, low body fat ratio, no osteoperosis,
    not over weight( 5' 10"- 125 lbs) no cholesterol issues. I owe it all to the great eating habits my mother taught: portion control, cook for yourself to control the salt and fats that restaurants use, make your plate 3/4 colorful veggies and small (blackberry size) portions of red meat. Oh, yeah… fish 2X week.
    I have always drank milk or ate dairy each day with fruit for desserts. I do recommend dark chocolate once in a while!

  3. Chuck says:

    Instead of instant oatmeal in the microwave try soaking steel cut oats over night (I simply refill the container each morning after I use it). 1/4 C. oats with 1/2 water and it's done on the stove in under 5 minutes. For an added treat caramelize up some bananas and toss a spoon full into your oats. The bananas will last a week or two (longer than fresh bananas do).

  4. Hillary says:

    Just saw your clip on ABC News – great tips!

    Do certain preparations of these foods decrease their brain boosting abilities? Does steaming spinach still make it nutritious? I love steamed spinach :)

  5. danawhite says:

    Hi Hillary
    If you cook certain vegetables for too long, you risk losing some of the nutrients. A quick steam is a great way to prepare them. Here are some of our
    tips for steaming veggies.

  6. danawhite says:

    Hi Hillary
    If you cook certain vegetables for too long, you risk losing some of the nutrients. A quick steam is a great way to prepare them. Here are some of our <a onclick='s_objectID="http://blog.healthyeats.com/blog/2009/05/05/healthy-how-to-steaming-veggies/_1&quot;;return this.s_oc?this.s_oc(e):true' href="http://blog.healthyeats.com/blog/2009/05/05/healthy-how-to-steaming-veggies/&quot; target="_blank">tips for steaming veggies.

  7. danawhite says:

    Hi Hillary
    If you cook certain vegetables for too long, you risk losing some of the nutrients. A quick steam is a great way to prepare them. Here are some of our tips for steaming veggies.

  8. Your brain needs to be fed. Yes, that is absolutely true. With fresh food that contains anti oxidants for instance, or omega 3. But your brain also needs intellectual food. By giving it that, your brain will keep on working hard and a hard working brain is a healthy brain. There is no reason why our brain should not stay healthy till we die of old age. As long as it is properly fed.

  9. Julie says:

    Low carb isn't eliminating an entire food group. It's figure out how much of these carbs your body can handle. You gradually add carbs back into your diet so you can see what your body can withstand and still be able to lose weight. Then after you've met your weightloss goal you will know how to be able to maintain your weight.

  10. Anon says:

    Most North Americans actually eat too MUCH protein, not too little.

    If you are going to eat meat at all, you should eat a lean piece about the size of a deck of cards or an iPod a day. That's all. Something like a 4 ounce serving. It's better to eat fish, though.

    The rest of your protein should come from legumes, nuts, seeds, and a bit of low fat dairy.

    Whereas lots of people eat literally twice or three times that much meat. 12 ounce steaks, anyone? Yeah. And plenty of people that eat those will have a ham sandwich for lunch, too. It's ridiculous.

    Too much protein puts stress on your kidneys, leaches calcium from your bones, and, it you eat protein mostly in the form of whole milk products and meat, it makes you fat.

  11. vab says:

    "low" ANY kind of diet is not healthy for everyone. generalizing like that is ignorant. balance, moderation and tailored exercise plans are whats important, and it all depends on the individual. everything including gender, age, height, weight, family history, race, and environment can all play factors in deciding what works best for you, and it may include constant trial and error.

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