September 2016

Foods to Make You Smarter

Author: Kent Thune

Do you want to know how to think faster and sharper to get that big project done? Or do you wonder why your brain often seems to be in a fog? Whether you want to strengthen your cognitive abilities or you would like to prevent a degradation of your mind, you’ll need to know which foods your brain needs and which ones it would prefer you avoid.

Although your mouth does the chewing and tasting, your brain loves to eat—but not just anything. It likes foods that are full of fuel like the right kind of fats, antioxidants, and carbohydrates to keep it at its best.

Let’s start the path to a good brain diet with breakfast. Start the day with the brain-boosting, high-quality protein found in eggs and monounsaturated fats like those in avocados. If you’re not an egg person, try Greek yogurt and add one of the best foods for your brain—berries—to jazz it up. Of all the berries you might choose from, blueberries are the best choice for your entire body. They’re high in fiber, and they’ve been linked to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and improving learning ability; they’re also among the best foods to eat for reducing stress. If you don’t like blueberries or they’re out of season, good alternatives include cranberries, blackberries and grapes.

Another great choice at breakfast time is oatmeal, which is high in fiber, has a modest amount of protein and even a small amount of omega-3s for healthy fats, all of which translate into good foods for both the brain and the heart. The healthiest oatmeal is made with the real oats, not the little microwavable packets that are often loaded with sugar.

Foods to avoid in the morning are those that are high in sugar and absent of the right kinds of fats and proteins your brain and body need. So loading up on donuts and sugary lattes isn’t a great idea. But you don’t have to give up Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts: Coffee is actually good for your brain. Just keep it to two or three cups per day, and don’t load it up with sugar and cream.
Tea is also a great beverage to start the day for your brain. But to get the beneficial antioxidants, called catechins, you’ll need to brew it fresh. And since tea has caffeine, limit it to two or three cups per day.

While on the subject of beverages, don’t forget about the most important drink—water. According to, the human brain is made up of 80 percent water, therefore, drinking water and brain health are integrally linked. Lack of water can cause problems with focus, memory, brain fatigue, headaches, sleep issues, and even depression. So make sure you drink plenty of water for your brain and body. Doctors recommend 80 ounces per day. That’s about 10 standard-sized drinking glasses.

For that late-morning snack, reach for a handful of nuts or seeds for protein, fiber and beneficial fats. The complex carbs will provide a perk, while the fat and protein will give you the extra fuel you’ll need to make it to the next meal. So with nuts or seeds, you’ll get a quick boost of energy that won’t turn into a crash later. Nuts contain protein and high amounts of fiber, and they are rich in beneficial fats. For getting an immediate energy boost that won’t turn into a spike later, you can’t do better than nuts. The complex carbs will perk you up while the fat and protein will sustain you. Nuts also contain plenty of vitamin E, which your brain needs.

As for the specific types of nuts, you don’t have to completely avoid salt but do your best to eat raw, plain nuts without a lot of sweeteners or seasoning. The best nuts are plain almonds but hazelnuts, cashews, and walnuts are also great. For seeds, stick with sunflower, sesame, and flax.
At lunchtime, be sure to avoid foods high in carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, rice, potato chips and French fries, which will make you sleepy and sluggish when your brain needs to be alive and alert. Instead, go for low-calorie, high protein foods, such as a salad with grilled chicken breast, salmon or shrimp, and add some vegetables, hummus or avocado.

For dinner, you can’t go wrong with beans, brown rice, and salmon. The beans will provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy carbs. As for the salmon, you’ll get omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for your brain, because they help improve cognition and alertness and can reduce risk of degenerative mental disease such as dementia. For best results, choose Alaskan salmon and eat two small portions per week. And when you cook the salmon or other foods on the stove, use olive oil for more of those healthy fats.

Tuna is also a great fish for brain health for many of the same reasons as salmon. In addition, tuna is high in vitamin B-6, which has been linked to brain health and to greater mood balance.
For outstanding appetizers and side dishes, go for green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, chard, romaine and arugula, and eat them daily. These foods are high in iron, which can help prevent fatigue, poor mood, and foggy thinking.

Top off the salad with tomatoes, which contain lycopene, an antioxidant that is good for your brain and can even help prevent dementia. Tomato sauces, soups, and even ketchup can be healthy but in small portions to keep sodium and sugar to minimums. If you want to make a great red sauce that your brain will love, add garlic, but don’t overcook it. The fresher the garlic the better; both your brain and your body want to reduce bad cholesterol and strengthen your cardiovascular system.

Now for the bad stuff: If you want your brain to be at its best, be sure to avoid alcohol, which kills brain cells; corn syrup and sugar, which are not just bad for the brain, but can lead to diabetes and obesity; and nicotine, which constricts blood flow to the brain.

If you’re not overly excited about all the berries, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables you’ll need to make your brain smarter and more alert, there is a nice consolation prize: chocolate! Loaded with antioxidants and just the right amount of caffeine, chocolate boosts serotonin, which will not only make you feel happier in the short term, but dark chocolate is rich in fiber, which translates to a healthy cardiovascular system—a necessity for a healthy brain.

Now that you’re smarter after reading this article, go out and load up on these healthy foods to make your brain even more powerful. 

??Kent Thune teaches entrepreneurship and finance at Hilton Head Island High School. He is also an investment advisor and freelance writer and is currently working on a book to be published later in 2016. You can follow his musings on mind, money and mastery of life at or on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.??

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