21 Ways To Feed Your Brain

We searched high and low to find the best and most delicious foods that will help you have razor-sharp recall and fired-up focus.

September 9, 2016
human brainPhotograph by Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

You know that classic TV commercial featuring an egg? "This is your brain; this is your brain on drugs?" While that was a metaphor, the truth is certain foods can fry or, on the flipside, feed your brain. We searched high and low to find the best and most delicious foods that will help you have razor-sharp recall, a naturally better mood, and fired-up focus. Start stocking your fridge today with these top 21 foods that will feed your brain—and check out these 11 instant mood-boosting foods while you're at it.

anchovies
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Anchovies

Swimming with brain-benefiting fatty acids, anchovies actually contain 10 times as many omega-3s as tuna, generally without the high levels of brain-damaging mercury found in bigger fish. Higher omega-3 levels during pregnancy and in childhood are linked to higher IQs. Anchovies also contain a healthy dose of mood- and immune-regulating vitamin D. Look for anchovies in glass jars instead of cans so you avoid the harmful can-lining chemical bisphenol A, or BPA.

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Asparagus
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Asparagus

Nearly half of people living with depression have low folate levels. Asparagus is a mood-boosting food loaded with the nutrient. Asparagus is also key in preventing—or nursing—a hangover. In 2009, Korean researchers found that asparagus extracts increased levels of important enzymes that break down alcohol after heavy drinking. (Asparagus is just one of these 10 great hangover foods.)

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avocado
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Avocados

Getting enough vitamin E could help shield your brain from Alzheimer's disease. One study found people who got their vitamin E from foods, not supplements, lowered their risk of the disease by 67 percent—if that's not enough to convince you, see why you should eat more avocados. Avocados are rich in vitamin E and will add a bit of vegetarian protein to your diet. 

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beets
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Beets

These depression-fighting root veggies bring some major vitamin B action to the table, helping your brain quickly process data and more efficiently sift through memories. Don't toss the beet greens—sauté the folate-rich tops for even more brain benefits.

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berries
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Berries

Those tiny seeds in fruits like strawberries and raspberries are chock-full of phytochemicals called ellagitannins, compounds that work to rid your body of environmental chemicals, such as plastics and pesticides. Blueberries are also rich in memory-improving antioxidants. Do your best to choose organic berries. Their thin skin makes it easier for pesticides to sink in. Certain farm chemicals used to deter pests are also systemic, meaning they permeate the fruit, so you can't wash them away.

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blue potatoes
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Blue Potatoes

You might not find them in a grocery store, but blue potatoes often steal the show at farmers' market stands. The blue color comes from anthocyanins, antioxidants that improve short-term memory and simmer down inflammation in the body. Always opt for organic spuds. Nonorganic potatoes fall on Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list for excessive pesticide contamination.

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coconut oil
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Coconut Oil

Once thought of as a no-no food because of its saturated fat content, researchers now know that a little bit of coconut oil provides a healthy dose of medium-chain fats that ignite your body's fat-burning furnace. This, in turn, creates ketones that fuel the brain. Opt for a less-processed, raw form of coconut oil, such as those from Wilderness Family Natural and Nutiva.
 

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curry powder
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Curry

This potent spice quells harmful inflammation. Animal studies suggest curcumin, curry's active ingredient, helps clear Alzheimer's-causing plaque proteins from the brain. Sneak curry into pasta sauces, salad dressings, marinades, lentil soup, or hummus.

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dark chocolate
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Dark Chocolate

Perhaps the most delicious brain booster—just a few ounces of chocolate can help fine-tune concentration, thanks to improved blood flow to the brain. Choose organic brands that treat cocoa farmers fairly, such as Theo Chocolate and Equal Exchange. And remember, the darker and purer, the better for your brain.

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eggs
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Eggs

Eggs are one of nature's best sources of memory-improving choline, a nutrient that appears to bump up the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps your brain store and recall information better. Seek a local farmer who raises birds on pasture and supplements with organic feed. Eggs from chickens raised on grass produce eggs with much higher brain-healthy omega-3s and vitamin E. Check out these 14 clever things you can do with eggs that you've never thought of.

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salmon
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Fatty Fish

Eating certain fatty fish showers your brain with DHA-containing fatty acids, the same type found in your brain cell membranes. Researchers think this helps transmit better signals between brain cells. Avoid farmed salmon and opt instead for wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Many farmed salmon operations are under fire because they apply high levels of pesticides to combat sea lice, a pest that's a growing problem in these factory farms of the sea. You can also look for tuna with lower mercury levels, like that sold by American Tuna, Pacific Fleet, MaryLu Seafoods, Wild Planet, and Wild Pacific Seafood.

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beef
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Grass-Fed Beef

Grass-fed beef is loaded with conjugated linoleic acid, an important fat that offsets stress hormones and promotes blood flow to the brain. Avoid factory-farmed beef, the type most commonly found in supermarkets. These cattle typically live the last part of their lives on feedlots where they feast on grains, not grass. If you ever buy meat at Walmart, you need to read this.

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mussels
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Mussels

This mollusk is one of the most potent natural sources of vitamin B12, a nutrient that preserves your brain's myelin sheath, insulating your brain cells as you age. Opt for farmed mussels raised in the United States—it's a sustainable source and one lower in contaminants.

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oatmeal
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Oatmeal

Certain carb-rich foods like oatmeal provide energy your brain needs to work. Your body quickly strips glucose from the food and sends it to your ticker, fueling better memory and concentration. Cook up real organic oatmeal from scratch or look for organic instant versions to avoid brain-killing high-fructose corn syrup and other harmful additives. Add a bit of cinnamon to your oatmeal for a healthy diabetes-fighting effect.

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olive oil
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Olive Oil

Rich in healthy fats and polyphenols, olive oil helps reduce inflammation in the body that could hamper your concentration. Olive oil may also help lower inflammation that triggers head-thumping migraines. It's best enjoyed on salads or used for low- to moderate-heat cooking—280 to 350 degrees. Olive oil isn't just a benefit in the kitchen, check out the 8 amazing ways olive oil is a lifesaver outside the kitchen.

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peppermint
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Peppermint

Scientists have linked peppermint to an increase in alertness and memory function. Why? It acts like a natural stimulant. Since many gum and candy products contain questionable ingredients, including artificial sweeteners and food dyes, get your peppermint fix from organic tea. For an occasional memory-infusing sweet treat, look for organic peppermint candies from Surf Sweets and TruJoy.

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pumpkin seeds
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Pumpkin Seeds

These delicious seeds are loaded with the amino acid tryptophan, a necessary component needed for proper neurotransmitter functioning. According to the book The Happiness Diet, pumpkin seeds have even been shown to reduce social anxiety. Try roasting your own pumpkin seeds, or try delicious, spicy pumpkin seeds from Eden Foods.

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raisins
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Raisins

Regular old raisins are potent sources of boron, a compound that has been shown in lab tests to increase attention and improve memory. Always opt for organic raisins—nonorganic versions often harbor neurotoxic pesticide residues and carcinogenic chemical compounds. Apples are another important source of brain-friendly boron.

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swiss chard
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Swiss Chard

This often-overlooked leafy green is loaded with magnesium, a nutrient required for proper biochemical reactions in the brain. Try growing your own Swiss chard in the garden—by harvesting only the outer leaves, you'll have a homegrown supply all season long (here's what you need to know about growing your own). Try rainbow chard for beautiful colors.

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walnuts
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Walnuts

Walnuts have a lot to offer, including important trace minerals like zinc and magnesium, both vital to a good mood. Walnuts are also loaded with vitamin E and other antioxidants that will help keep your neurons protected and communicating well. Aim to eat a small handful of walnuts a day. A Spanish study found people who had this habit improved working memory by nearly 20 percent.

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water
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Water

Three-quarters of your brain is water, meaning dehydration can really affect your mental makeup. In fact, an Ohio University study determined that well-hydrated people scored better on brainpower tests compared to people not drinking enough H20. Sip six to eight glasses of water a day (see why some people are even drinking a gallon of water a day) to see some increased health benefits.

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