Foods for a Beautiful Brain

beau·ti·ful/ˈbyo͞otəfəl/

  1. Pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically.
  2. Of a very high standard; excellent.                                        —Dictionary.com

Based on our recent discussion, many of us value our inner-beauty over external, but agree that both are important. Well guess what. Eating well promotes both in our brains. Consider this example:

A growing body of research shows that a healthy dietary lifestyle guards against Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia and cognitive decline, while boosting overall mental sharpness—in some cases, immediately. (Woo hoo, right???)

To increase your odds of sharp, long-lasting brain function, eat a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. When you indulge in sweets, fried foods or other low-nutrient fare, enjoy it and practice moderation. As I suggested in my Dodge Dieting post, the 80/20 rule works well—aiming for about 80 percent nutritious foods and 20 percent “play” foods.

Ten Brain-Boosting Super Stars:
Fortunately, there are loads of brain-beautifying foods. Here are some of my favorites. 😉

1. Berries Numerous studies have linked berry consumption with brain health. Berries provide valuable amounts of water and fiber, both of which promote positive energy levels between meals, and potent antioxidants, which support strong immune and brain function. Tip: Stock up on whatever berries are in season and keep unsweetened frozen berries on hand year round. They make awesome additions to oatmeal, baked goods and smoothies.

2. Broccoli Broccoli appears on countless superfoods lists, and for good reason. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, rich in antioxidants and a chemical that may enhance brain healing, according to a Journal of Neuroscience report. Tip: Steam, rather than microwave or boil, broccoli to retain nutrients.

3. Leafy Greens Diets high in folate are linked with a lowered risk for cognitive decline. Leafy greens, like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, mustard greens, are high in folate. They also provide ample fiber. Tip: Buy dark, leafy greens with every shopping trip. If you fear you won’t finish them before they spoil, chop remaining leaves up and freeze them in air-tight containers for use in soups, stews, pasta dishes and more.

4. Potatoes Yes, that’s right. I said potatoes. Our beloved spuds have gained a bad reputation, both due to the way many people prepare them and the risky low-carb diet craze. But potatoes, whether russet or sweet, provide complex carbohydrates—your brain’s and body’s main fuel source. Potatoes are also rich in potassium—an electrolyte important for brain function, fiber and tryptophan—an amino acid that helps your brain create the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin. (Nope, turkey isn’t the only source.) Tip: For healthy “fries,” coat sliced potato into rounds with canola or olive oil cooking spray then bake them at 350 deg. until they appear golden.

5. Popcorn As one of the most nutritious whole grains, popcorn provides valuable amounts of fiber, which helps keep our blood sugar and energy level, B-vitamins, which promote positive energy levels, and antioxidants that help stave off infections and disease. Tip: Season air-popped popcorn with natural herbs or try it dessert-style, sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and stevia or cane sugar.

6. Salmon The healthy omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, and other fatty fish, don’t simply promote more positive heart-health. They play a key role in brain function. And because our bodies can’t produce them, they way they produce other fats, we must get them through food. Consuming too few omega-3s can cause lethargy, fatigue, memory problems and depressive moods. (Blech.) Tip: The American Heart Association recommends eating 3.5 oz of fatty fish (about the size of a deck of cards) at least twice per week.

7. Flaxseeds Flaxseeds are top plant sources of omega-3s. They also contain ample fiber, protein and antioxidants. If you don’t eat fatty fish routinely, incorporate flaxseeds into your diet. Even if you do eat fish, flaxseeds can enhance your diet. Tip: Add ground flaxseeds to other healthy foods, like smoothies, whole grain cereal, bran muffins and yogurt. For freshness, keep ground seed in your refrigerator.

8. Green Tea Some researchers believe that moderate amounts of caffeine can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and boost mental sharpness. Green tea provides caffeine and lots of other perks, such as plentiful antioxidants. An animal study published in Biogerontology in 2006 linked daily green tea consumption with better sustained memory capabilities. Tip: Brew a pot of green tea to enjoy hot or chilled. For added flavor and nutrients, add lemon or apple slices. (YUM!) If you’re sensitive to caffeine or drink tea late in the day, opt for caffeine-free.

9. Peanut Butter While all nuts are nutritious, peanuts provide more healthy fats than most. Peanut butter is also filling, convenient and rich in satiating fiber. Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that eating peanut butter five days per week does a lot to prevent heart attacks. Snacking on peanut butter, instead of other snack foods, has also been linked with better weight and appetite control. Tip: If you don’t like or tolerate peanuts, substitute almond butter, which is particularly rich in calcium.

10. Dark Chocolate (I repeat, YUM!!!) In addition to deliciousness, dark chocolate provides protective plant chemicals called flavanols. Research headed up by Ian MacDonald, a professor at the University of Nottingham, found that consuming cocoa rich in flavanols boosts blood flow to important brain areas for up to three hours. Tip: Feeling low, yet work calls? Eat several squares of dark chocolate. If you have difficulty sticking to modest portions, keep chocolate in your freezer or buy single portions.

Fabulous Foodie Fun:
Violets and Cardamom’s recipe for Oatmeal Breakfast Bars and Muffins provides a fun, tasty way to get brain-boosting nutrients from whole grains, flaxseeds and almond butter at breakfast.
Write On, Jana! brings us nutritious, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Cinnamon Rolls. I’m salivating over these babies!
For more chocolate-loving fun, check out Tameri Etherton‘s Chocolate, the Language of LOVE.

Do you consider brain-health when approaching your diet? Are you a fan of these foods? Feel free to share your nutrition questions or challenges. I LOVE hearing from you and am eager to offer support.

Leave a comment

83 Comments

  1. I recently started juicing. I feel so much better. I replaced my coffee with Matcha everyday. You give some really good suggestions. Keep it up.

    Reply
    • Ah, juicing. Talk about delicious, safe and healthy alternatives to vitamin supplements. 🙂

      So glad you’re reaping the benefits of healthy habits. Feeling well is a great reinforcer for healthy eating—takes the “chore” nature out of it and empowers us.

      Reply
  2. Love your food list with the Beautiful Article. As it happens, this represents my current and favorite diet.

    It’s all the more important because we have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    Reply
  3. You brought a smile to my face by sticking up for potatoes. They’re a regular staple in my house (my favorite way is to roast mini red potatoes with balsamic vinegar). We try to avoid anything fried or soaked in butter, but a lot of people don’t realize how many healthy ways there are to use potatoes.

    Reply
  4. I DEFINTIELY needed this post! Thanks, August!

    Reply
  5. Love the food list. Another mom and I discussed on Tuesday, how we thought blueberries should be introduced as a dessert to small children. If given the chance, her daughter and my son would eat blueberries all day!

    Reply
    • Such a great point, Stacy. Wee ones’ taste buds are so sensitive, they get plenty of sweetness from fruits and veggies. Framing them as treats, all the better.

      Reply
  6. You had me until you mentioned broccoli. Vile weed! I also noticed the brain pictures looked like fresh cauliflower and cauliflower gone bad(redundant). Other than those two demons from the earth, great ideas! I’ll start tomorrow.

    Reply
  7. Off to make a pot of tea and eat some dark chocolate!!

    Reply
  8. A very good post on preserving and enhancing the inner beauty. I like you list of brain food, with a few exceptions that aren’t to my likings like popcorn and peanut butter. But I think equally important is to avoid empty carbohydrates in excess. The 80/20 rule comes in very handy here. Thanks for keeping me on the diet.

    Reply
    • Yes, that 80/20 rule definitely helps. Fortunately, the more nutritious foods we eat, the more we tend to desire them, making it pretty second nature. Sounds like you’re on a stellar track. Keep that up!

      Reply
  9. Well, at least I’m getting a couple of foods right. Potatoes and Dark chocolate. Probably not together. They are both huge weaknesses for me. But from what you’ve said here, I can consider them a strength! This was really interesting, thanks for sharing it!

    Reply
    • Come to think of it, I like popcorn, berries and peanut butter too! And leafy salads. Maybe I’m not doing so bad after all. I just need to throw some flax seeds on something and learn how to cook fish.

      Reply
      • Lots of us underestimate our dietary attributes. Eat those taters and dark chocolate and be merry, Melinda!

        Practicing balance and moderation and eating a variety of nutritious foods is key. But so is enjoying and celebrating them.

  10. Great post, Autumn.

    For breakfast I whizz in a blender 6oz plain yoghurt and fresh rasberries or blackberries then add whole blueberries sprinkled with Omega Sprinkle which consists of hulled pumpkin, sunflower & sesame seeds, with linseed & golden linseed.

    I drink white tea and take 1,000mg of flaxseed oil twice a day with food.

    Brocolli I prefer raw to cooked and make up a dip with plain yoghurt, garlic and chives. The dip is great on baked potato or with salmon or chicken. Or mix the dip with cottage cheese.

    Reply
  11. Some super foods here… glad to know that we enjoy most of them regularly (except for peanuts and flax which are severe allergens for my kids). In our family’s transition to a gluten/casein free diet (in support of my son for whom the diet was strongly recommended) I have been relying on whole food staples like fresh veggies and fruits, air-popped popcorn for breakfast and squares of dark chocolate for “treats.” You just can’t go wrong with the basics and it’s a whole lot easier to identify potential allergens when you’re eating foods in their natural state!
    And… Thanks for the link-up, August!

    Reply
  12. miq

     /  February 16, 2012

    Yes! I feel like I’ve won a challenge because I regularly eat 8 of the ten foods you have up there. If you want a delicious recipe for broccoli, this one is my favorite:

    http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2008/11/the_best_brocco.html

    Seriously, it’s so good!

    Reply
  13. Another great post August! But I just got a peek at the main page of your website. Can I just say beautiful! Seriously, who was your web designer? I want his number!

    Anyway, this girl has had CFS for a couple of decades. And because of this I’ve been a huge advocate for all things healthy. This actually started when I had my kids. Eating healthy I am convinced was the reason why they were both healthy babies. Then it went on from there. We eat organic foods in our house. We don’t do peanut butter because it’s roasted and when you heat the nut it changes its health value. We eat raw nuts, thus raw almond butter which we like better. 🙂

    I’m also into Homeopathy and Chinese medicine so I have a pantry full of stuff. Years ago I found this awesome organic tea tincture that has 7800 ORAC count per cup which is a crazy high antioxidant count. I drink it all day. It has blackberry in it and tastes awesome. You would love it.

    Now I want to start juicing. The dark green leafy stuff is going in with the beets, carrots, and cucumber! Yum, can’t wait.

    I love what you’re doing with these posts August. They are right up my alley girl!

    Thanks! 🙂

    Reply
    • You are such an inspiration, Karen. Thanks for your enthusiasm and for serving as such a fabulous example of self care.

      One of my favorite greens smoothies contains milk (any kind—I use almond or soy), kale, banana, ground flaxseeds, agave and frozen berries. It’s also scrumptious with a dollop of almond or peanut butter. 🙂

      Thanks for your lovely thoughts on my site! A talented friend of mine made it. I dropped him a note to see if I can share his info. Stay tuned!

      Reply
  14. This is awesome and I love everything on the list. I am the immortal highlander. :))

    Reply
  15. Marc Schuster

     /  February 16, 2012

    I’m fortunate to have a wife who’s really into healthy eating, so I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of my favorite foods on here! Thank goodness for sensible spouses. Otherwise, who knows what I’d be eating!

    Reply
  16. Kourtney Heintz

     /  February 16, 2012

    I didn’t used to consider brain healthy foods when eating but I will now! I love berries in Greek yogart. Coincidently I started feeling better–mentally sharper–while eating them. 🙂

    Reply
    • I’m not surprised you feel great after berries and yogurt. That pairing is fantastic for stable blood sugar and energy levels.

      Isn’t Green yogurt the best? So creamy and protein-rich…and usually low in sugar and other additives compared to other varieties. Keep up the great work, Kourtney!

      Reply
      • Kourtney Heintz

         /  February 17, 2012

        Thanks August! It makes for a nice breakfast. 🙂 I love Fage greek yogurt.

  17. Awesome ideas, August. These are not only very healthy but delicious! I love peanut butter with baby carrots, or almond milk on my GF cereal. Dark leafy greens, broccoli and ground flax seed are almost always in my daily diet. Honey is believed to be a “brain food” in my country (Poland). I put it in my tea and on my GF bread. I pick blueberries from a local farm every summer. We freeze them and enjoy the pure goodness of this nutrient-packed food all winter 🙂 Oh, and chocolate of course! I love dark chocolate acai berries – it’s a total bliss.

    The only thing I would like to emphasize is to eat organic. Pesticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers harm our bodies more than we know. Genetically engineered foods are as bad. GMO corn contains pesticides and fungicides already in the seeds, so the farmers don’t have to use these chemicals on the crops. But we eat the seeds, thinking they are safe and healthy. Most of the European countries have banned GMOs from their market. A wise decision – we can only wish the US would follow 😦

    Reply
  18. As a celiac there’s so much I can’t eat that it’s good to see a list of things I enjoy. I don’t eat all of them every day but i’m getting better. My daughter gave me a Magic Bullet for Cmas and I’ve been making smoothies more often. nothing like spinach, blueberries a few flax seeds, banana and yogurt, with almost milk to give me a great start to my day.

    this is a concise simple compilation, August. thanks so much for posting it.

    Reply
    • Smoothies are such a great way to get a broad range of nutrients. I also love how versatile and scrumptious they are. 😉 Glad you appreciated the post, Louise!

      Reply
  19. BoJo Photo

     /  February 16, 2012

    Awesome dietary tips! Luckily I eat most of what you included except the flaxseeds which may be on some of the bread I buy but I’m not sure. I’ll have to look into buying me a bag to have around.

    Reply
    • If you eat fatty fish routinely, you’ll get those omega-3s. For fiber, just make sure you get plenty of fruits, veggies and whole grains.

      Flaxseed is an awesome food, but you can definitely meet your brain-beauty 😉 and dietary needs without it. And you’re right—numerous tasty cereals and breads that contain flaxseeds. If you give flax a try, let me know what you think!

      Reply
  20. I don’t eat healthy, so I was very surprised to find out I eat a lot of items in this list! I have a popcorn obsession, and I always eat salmon (it’s a washington state staple :-)).
    Great advice–again–, August! Thanks for jelping us with our mind and body health.

    Reply
  21. Well, I have had berries on my rolled oats this morning stirred with avocado honey (Yum), and dark chocolate (85%) for snack this afternoon (gift from a patient). The day is young, and I am sure I will be able to knock a few more off this evening. Thursday is popcorn night sprinkled with grated, fresh parmesan cheese. Oh, and a Protandim capsule (supplement) before bed(makes me dream in techni-color). Good information. Keep it up August. – Randy Bauer

    Reply
    • I’m not sure which sounds cooler—that honey or your techni-color dreams. 😉 Sounds like you have some tasty, ultra-nutritious habits in place—well done!

      Reply
  22. There are some of my favorite foods on here! Who knew??!! But how could you leave out my favorite — red wine? Great with dark chocolate, BTW…..

    Reply
  23. Yay I eat most of those things esp. the dark chocolate and berries 🙂

    Reply
  24. I am a huge proponent of anti-oxidant rich foods and beverages. Those, combined with exercise and sleep, make for a very healthy immune system, as you point out. Especially this time of year when everyone is hacking and sneezing. Thanks for a great post!

    Reply
  25. As you know, my Christmas weakness is chocolate. But for the rest of the year, we eat pretty well. Our favorite food in the summer is salmon cooked on the barbecue and during the winter, we open canned salmon. Best energy food — for the body and the brain — in the world.

    Great post, August. Very informative!

    Reply
  26. Great advice, August. Being veggie it’s almost impossible for me not to tick most of the items you list. Alzheimer’s is one of those things that will take many years of research to track down because by definition it takes a long time to correlate cause and effect. I suspect that unhealthy foods (eg fats) have as much of a negative effect as healthy foods have positive.

    One of the things I don’t understand about anti-oxidants is that mere milligrams is considered beneficial, yet our bodies are saturated with oxygen? Strange.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Antioxidants sure are complex. What’s amazing to me is the way our bodies benefit not only from trace amounts of nutrients, but in combinations and amounts that occur naturally in whole foods. This is one reason I highly recommend whole foods over supplements, with the exception of people with medical conditions that inhibit nutrient absorption or simply can’t eat enough healthy food.

      As for oxygen, one thing antioxidants do is help ensure that enough oxygen gets to the brain. More on this here: http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/micro.html

      Thanks for the insight, Nigel! So glad you eat a plant-based, nutritious diet. May be one reason behind your sharpness. 🙂

      Reply
      • LOL! I guess by “sharpness” you mean I’m a sourpuss 🙂

        That’s an interesting link. I’m sure there’s lots more research to go before the why behind some of these things is really understood.

        Cheers!

  27. What a delicious and inspiring list of ten important brain foods. Inspiring in the sense that it makes me want to make sure that I am getting plenty of these foods in my daily diet! So glad you have dark chocolate on the list. 🙂 And I knew the breakfast bars were healthy but now I can boast that they are “beautiful brain” food too! 🙂

    Reply
  28. Awesome post! First of all, I’m super glad you mentioned flaxseeds. They are so easy to slip into your diet and so good for your body. I buy them whole and use a coffee grinder to grind them as needed (I don’t drink coffee, it’s just for spices & flaxseeds).

    And berries! Nature’s candy. I never met a berry I didn’t like and they are so good for our skin. Thanks too for mentioning the 80/20 rule. I think people freak themselves out thinking healthy eating has to be 100% of the time.

    Between you and Ginger Calem, we’re going to be the healthiest group of writers ever!

    Reply
  29. Ohmygosh! I was so excited about your post, I forgot to thank you for mentioning mine. Thank you!!

    Reply
  30. Not a huge fan of fish, but I love the rest of it. I savor my blueberries in my smoothie or with yogurt in the morning. Yum! My kids could eat them all day long. It’s getting them to eat all the other good for you stuff. It’s a work-in-progress.

    Reply
  31. Potatos AND popcorn…I love this post! 🙂

    Reply
  32. I love all of these foods, except maybe potatoes. I like them–I just had an overload of them while growing up. But now my kids love them, so you’ve given me a good reason to serve them more often.

    Reply
  33. Mr P

     /  February 17, 2012

    Yum! Who knew my brain was asking for chocolate? Thanks for the tips.

    Reply
  34. So happy popcorn is on that list! I usually add pink salt to it (also very good for you), but one of these days I might try the cinnamon.

    Reply
  35. Shannon Esposito

     /  February 17, 2012

    I just ordered two new things today to add to my daily routine: cocao nibs (the center of the cocoa bean, so pure) to curb my chocolate cravings & black rasberry capsules. Saw them on dr. oz 🙂

    Reply
    • A couple of simple additions can make a hugely positive impact on our diets. They also inspire MORE healthy choices. 😉 You’ll have to let me know what you think of those cocoa nibs!

      Reply
  36. Thanks for the food/vitamin, etc. reminder. I know this, but as I get busy I tend to forget and need reminders like this to check my diet. It’s necessary to keep this information at the forefront of our minds as we write forward. Thanks again.

    Reply
  37. Anna Carlson

     /  February 17, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this great info. What do you recommend for a fatty fish if you do not like salmon? Let’s talk soon! Anna:)

    Reply
    • So fun to see you here, Anna! For omega-3s, any fatty fish will do—albacore tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines… If you’re cringing 😉 incorporate flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil into your meals and snacks regularly. Fish oil supplements are valuable alternatives if you have trouble getting them from foods. Hope that helps! And YES, let’s chat soon.

      Reply
  38. Thanks, August! Because of finicky eaters, I wind up taking more supplements than I want (and making the kids take them, too). And you just reminded me about the fish oil I bought a month or so ago…and promptly forgot about because I didn’t set it on my desk. It’s there now. If it helps with fatigue, I won’t be forgetting it anymore. God I hate thyroid issues! 🙂

    Reply
  39. Oops. And I HATE Brussels sprouts…but love spicy foods so I’m not a super-taster. I just don’t like foods that taste bad…and they rate near the top of my do-not-eat list. Right after liver, chop suey, butter/lima beans and sour stuff. 🙂

    Reply
    • Super tasters vary lots in what they do and don’t like, so you and your kids still may suit the category. I have a quiz somewhere… If I find it, I’ll send it your way. 😉

      Reply
      • Thanks! I’ll keep an eye out for it. But I think my dislikes are pretty typical…at least in my family. My mom is the only one who likes the foods I mentioned. Fortunately my siblings and I banded together, stayed strong…and haven’t had so much as a bite of any of those things since growing up and moving away from home. 🙂

  40. I’m taking this post as a sign from fate, as I read it while preparing my grocery list and it reminded me to get back on the healthy food wagon… I’ve been off it for longer than usual.

    Also something else about salmon, it’s one of the few good sources of vitamin D from food. If you flake it together with some white beans, it’s a great tasty way to boost both vitamin D and potassium in a nice little bean salad.

    Reply
  41. I wish I could eat really healthily for a week, get my 35 total servings of vegetables, and then have that count for the rest of my life.

    Sometimes it’s just hard to find the time to eat all those vegetables.

    Reply
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