Can Certain Foods and Drinks
Make Us Smarter?

By  Laurie Hunter

Updated Monday, September 5, 2016

Got a big test or work project coming up? Or just want to improve your brainpower? Here are some “brain” foods I’d like to recommend along with logic that could motivate you to eat smarter.

Aim to Eat One Omega-3 Food Every Day

Omega-3 foods support brain functions. How? Because, axons of the neurons in your brain are surrounded by myelin sheaths, which are insulating fatty layers. Omega-3 fats contribute to healthy myelin sheaths and can speed up the transmission of impulses in your brain.

Symptoms of omega-3 deficiency can include fatigue, poor memory, depression, mood swings, and dry skin. You can eat foods that contain omega-3 fats to decrease these symptoms, improve brain biochemical processes, increase memory, and reduce symptoms related to ADHD and dyslexia. Evidence indicates that omega-3 from food sources rather than capsule supplements can be more beneficial. It’s mostly because foods with omega-3’s are also high in other important nutrients and hence produce greater benefits.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Eggs (also high in choline, a nutrient needed to make neurotransmitters that help to signal between memory-supporting neurons)
  • Salmon, tuna
  • Nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, organic peanut butter
  • Kiwi, basil, spinach
  • Walnut or sunflower oil (both have mild flavors and handle high temperatures)
Aim to Eat One “Happy” Food Every Day

Foods high in magnesium and vitamin D ward off depression, anxiety, and improve some symptoms related to ADHD, dyslexia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Magnesium and other minerals can be found naturally only in foods grown from the earth. So, if you eat only processed foods, you won’t get many essential minerals like magnesium. Magnesium, alone, performs over 300 chemical reactions that keep the body working properly. This may explain why research shows food sources, rather than vitamin pill supplements, can be more beneficial.

Examples of foods high in magnesium and/or vitamin D:

  • Potatoes, peas, broccoli, spinach, and other leafy greens, beans
  • Raw almonds, walnuts, and peanuts (indirectly increase levels of serotonin – the neurotransmitter that can help decrease feelings of fatigue, hunger, insomnia, and depression)
  • Milk, yogurt, and other calcium-rich foods
  • 15 minutes of sunshine/exercise per day (directly increase levels of serotonin)
Aim to Eat Foods with Antioxidants Every Day

Harmful free radicals can cause damage to your body in numerous ways. They can damage cells, DNA, proteins, and cell membranes and interfere with your body’s biochemical processes. Your body fights free radicals with antioxidants. You can also eat foods that contain antioxidants to block free radicals from harming your arteries, tissues, organs, etc.

Research has shown mixed results regarding antioxidant vitamin supplements. However, studies show foods containing antioxidants (beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamins A, C, and E) can prevent free radical damage.

Examples of foods high in antioxidants:

  • Oranges, organic berries, cherry tomatoes, tomato sauce, cranberry juice
Aim to Eat One Probiotic Every Day

The bacterial health of your gut is linked to your brain and overall health. How? Because most of the nutrients you eat are absorbed in the small intestine. So when you eat foods with antioxidants and probiotics, a healthy small intestine absorbs more nutrients into the bloodstream. Your circulatory system distributes them through your bloodstream to “feed” all the cells in your body.

Examples of foods with probiotics/live cultures:

  • Yogurt, Kefir (you can freeze yogurt the night before to make a popsicle)
  • Some cheeses, cottage cheese (the label will indicate if it contains live cultures or enzymes)
  • Kimchi, some coleslaws (the label will indicate if it contains live cultures)
Eat Organic, Unprocessed Foods

Choose organic foods, whenever possible. What most people don’t realize is when farmers use pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, all these chemicals are absorbed into the food they are growing.

Also, studies show that artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives can interfere with focus, attention, and sustained concentration. When shopping for packaged items, look for foods that do not contain artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. Most products that do not contain artificial ingredients will say, “All Natural” somewhere on the label.

Drink Filtered Water

Filter out lead, arsenic, fluoride, and other possibly harmful substances from your drinking water. Fluoride is not a nutrient and our bodies do not need it. It can accumulate in your body over a lifetime and has been linked difficulties such as impaired brain function.

Stimulate Brain Activity

Crunchy foods can help stimulate brain activity, which can help you maintain concentration.

Some examples are:

  • Carrots, celery, bell peppers, apples
  • Sun Chips (made with whole grain and they actually contain vitamins)
  • Granola (or other cereal with whole grains and low in sugar)
Beware of Sugar

Reserve sugary treats for short study/work session lasting one hour or less.

Wind Down

About one hour before bedtime, have a glass of milk or a handful of walnuts or almonds.

Best of luck with your studies and work endeavors. I wish you much health, happiness, and success. Now go feed your brain!