In this article, we'll discuss the 7 best nootropic foods that can help enhance your brain health and increase your cerebral abilities. We'll also explore the essential nutrients required for peak brain health, such as omega-3 fatty acids, choline and B vitamins. So let’s dive in to learn about nootropic foods!
What are nootropics?
The term nootropic is derived from two Greek words that mean 'brain-turning' and loosely translates to denote a substance that enhances brain function. Other terms used to describe nootropics include ‘’brain supplements’ or ‘smart drugs’.
You may be surprised to learn that nootropics are not just found synthetically in medications or supplements. It’s true that nootropic substances form part of certain brain-stimulating medications that can be obtained from your doctor. However, nootropic compounds occur in nature and are readily available through food right from your pantry and fridge. This way, you can consume natural nootropics every day as part of your daily meals, instead of being in the form of a capsule or tablet.
So what are the mechanisms of nootropic substances? How do they work?
Many commonly found foods and beverages, full of cognitive-enhancing vitamins, minerals and nutrients are known to improve cognitive performance, boosting your memory, focus, creative output and mental clarity. Nootropics influence the brain's capacity to learn and integrate new information, while also conferring protective benefits to different brain regions. Using nootropics can improve brain cell resilience against free radicals and toxins, through antioxidant protection. They can also enhance communication between the brain hemispheres, and stimulate different brain regions associated with advanced cognitive functions.
Now you'll want to know what foods contain these brain-enhancing compounds.
Here are some of the most powerful nootropic foods you can add to your diet today.
7 Nootropic Foods To Support Cognition & Brain Health
- Oily Fish
- Leafy Greens
- Dark Chocolate
Eggs are a great natural nootropic food that helps a range of brain functions. Eggs contain important B vitamins like folate, which help produce serotonin and other neurotransmitters that regulate mood.
Eggs are one of the richest sources of choline, which is an important nutrient for memory, learning and focus. A 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients, shows that choline is an essential micronutrient necessary for normal brain growth and development. It performs a crucial function in preserving the structural and functional integrity of cell membranes. Furthermore, it is a central component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which controls cholinergic signalling in the brain.
A recent article published in the journal Stroke supports the therapeutic uses of choline in elderly patients who'd suffered brain damage from ischemic stroke events. This study found that higher levels of choline in patients were associated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment following an ischemic stroke. This suggests that choline pathway nutrients may have an important role in predicting poststroke cognitive impairment. It’s easy to see why foods like eggs are one of the most important nootropic foods to support learning as the brain develops and throughout our entire lives.
These delicious little berries are a powerhouse of nutrients, with plenty of research supporting their benefits in cardiovascular health and digestive health. Blueberries are high in vitamin C and anthocyanins, which help protect the brain from oxidative stress, helps reduce inflammation and can improve your mood.
A comprehensive systematic review published in Brain, behavior, and immunity showed that blueberries and blueberry products (such as dried blueberries) had various positive impacts on the cognition of both children and adults. The active plant polyphenol - anthocyanin, was shown to improve cognitive performance in areas of executive function, working memory and spatial memory.
Other research demonstrates that blueberries boost blood-oxygen levels in the brain, which further enhances the nootropic effects in elderly populations at risk for brain impairment and dementia.
Fish is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for optimal brain health. Omega-3 helps maintain cell membrane integrity and reduces inflammation in the brain. An article published in Nature Communications indicates that omega-3 fats from oily fish can reduce symptoms of depression, improve cognitive performance and sharpen memory.
Omega 3, and more specifically DHA forms part of the phospholipid layer of cell walls and influences cell permeability, enzyme activity and cell communication. DHA is specifically included in the cells of the retina in the eye as well as in the neuronal cells related to visual interpretation in the brain.
The ability of a cell to communicate with other cells, bacteria or the nervous system plays a crucial role in determining your overall health, including the health of your brain, across the lifespan. So, to optimise your brain, eyes and nervous system, eat more oily fish as one of the best natural nootropic sources in food.
Did you know that nuts can be classified as a nootropic food? Well, now you do.
Nuts are a great source of several essential vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and vitamin E. All these nutrients support the brain and nervous system to boost cognition. Eating nuts regularly can support cognitive function, reduce the risk of dementia and help protect against age-related decline.
Nuts are also packed with antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the brain. Walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts and peanuts have a range of important nootropic compounds. Omega-3, choline, folate and plant polyphenols like resveratrol and flavonoids all help to support the brain's optimal functioning.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard are loaded with B vitamins, iron and antioxidants. B vitamins are critical for cellular energy and neurotransmitter production. Without enough B vitamins from food, such as folate and B6, you simply can't make enough neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are involved in motivation, memory and concentration.
Iron is an essential component of haemoglobin in red blood cells. Your red blood cells transport oxygen all over the body, including the brain. Research indicates that the brain needs a steady supply of oxygen to work effectively. In fact, healthy iron levels are directly correlated to optimal neurological function.
The natural antioxidants found in leafy greens are essential for maintaining good brain health as they help protect the brain from oxidative damage. Recent studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin, two beneficial carotenoids, are abundant in nutritious dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach. These plant polyphenols are exclusive to the function of the eye and contribute to the visual processing aspects of the brain. Leafy greens are another natural nootropic food to add to your healthy brain foods list.
Coffee contains several beneficial compounds, including caffeine which can enhance cognitive performance and alertness. Some research from cohort studies indicates that drinking coffee can lower the likelihood of developing neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.
So what makes coffee, or more specifically caffeine a nootropic?
Scientific data published in the journal Neuropharmacology revealed that when people take caffeine, the left and right sides of their brains work more efficiently when attempting to learn/remember a new task. This research shows that caffeine affects the brain's ability to remember things, both in long-term and short-term processing. The impact of caffeine on working memory can be explained by both a direct effect on the processes involved in working memory, as well as an indirect effect through the effects of helping us to feel more awake, alert and attentive.
Coffee also blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that can cause fatigue and drowsiness. This is why you feel a boost of alertness from your morning brew. Yet, consuming too much caffeine can make you feel mentally wired or jittery, so sticking to just one or two cups per day (maximum) of real coffee can be an ideal way to reap the nootropic benefits of this globally loved beverage.
Yes, all hail dark chocolate for its natural nootropic benefits! Dark chocolate contains a range of powerful plant polyphenols, such as flavonoids which help to reduce inflammation in the brain and can boost cognitive performance. Dark chocolate is also a great source of magnesium and B vitamins, which help produce serotonin, noradrenaline and support mood regulation.
Consuming dark chocolate has been shown to have a strong correlation with a new brain cell formation (neurogenesis) and better memory. This is likely because cocoa enhances blood circulation in the brain. As a natural nootropic, dark chocolate has been shown to improve visual-spatial memory and abstract reasoning, which are important cognitive skills for problem-solving. Aim for 70-80% cocoa solids or higher for the best brain-boosting effects.
Nootropic Foods For Optimal Brain Health
These are some of the best nootropic foods and sources that you can include in your diet for optimal mental health. Eating these foods regularly can help improve memory, focus and concentration while reducing the risk of cognitive decline. So make sure to add these brain foods to your daily diet and get ready to supercharge your brain power!
Remember, eating a well-balanced diet is still the best way to keep your brain healthy holistically. Make sure you include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats in your diet for maximum health benefits. And don't forget to get enough rest and exercise too! With these simple tips, you'll be well on your way to having a healthier, smarter and more productive brain.
Nootropic Foods - Frequently Asked Questions
Are caffeine and L-theanine nootropic compounds?
Yes, caffeine and L-theanine are two of the most popular nootropics out there. Caffeine is a stimulant that can boost alertness, while L-theanine helps to balance out the effects of caffeine by providing relaxation and focus. Together, they make an excellent combination for mental performance enhancement. Remember, caffeine overload can lead to jitteriness and anxiety as well as disrupting your sleep onset, so it's important to limit your total daily caffeine intake to avoid these negative health effects.
What are the best sources of omega-3?
The best sources of omega-3 are fatty fishes such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring. You can also get omega-3 from plant-based sources such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts.
Are there any dietary supplements for nootropics?
Yes, there are various dietary supplements available that contain nootropic ingredients with L-theanine, medicinal mushrooms, B vitamins and antioxidants. However, it's important to consult a doctor before starting any supplement as they may not be suitable for everyone.
What are other important tips for maintaining good mental health?
Apart from eating a healthy diet, it's important to get enough sleep and exercise regularly. It's also essential to manage stress levels, stay socially connected and take time out for leisure activities. Taking part in mentally stimulating activities like puzzles, reading or learning a new language can also help keep your brain sharp.
Everyday mild dehydration can have harmful effects on mental function, mood, and energy levels, and can impact your ability to think clearly. So staying on top of your water intake is another way to support your brain function.
Blueberry Almond Smoothie Bowl
Here's a recipe that incorporates several nootropic foods to support cognitive health.
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- 1 banana, sliced and frozen
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 tbsp almond butter
- 1 tsp honey
- 1/2 cup spinach
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- Optional toppings: sliced banana, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, granola, shredded coconut
- Add the frozen blueberries, frozen banana, avocado, almond butter, honey, spinach, and almond milk to a blender.
- Blend until smooth and creamy.
- Pour the smoothie into a bowl and top with chopped walnuts, chia seeds, fresh blueberries or granola.
- Enjoy immediately.
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