You’ve experienced those days where you feel foggy and the most basic questions are impossibly hard. Good news—your mental energy and focus can be improved by eating the right foods.
Nutrition plays a large role in your overall energy as well as the ability to focus and think with a clear mind. How much more could you accomplish in a day if your mind was consistently sharp and could tackle anything that was thrown at you?
With the following seven foods, you can improve your mental focus, energy, and cognitive function as a whole—no coffee needed!
Broccoli has always been known as a healthy food. It’s green and it’s a vegetable—how could it not be healthy? Broccoli has important nutrients that not only improve overall health, but also benefit the brain. It’s a bit of an overachiever in the veggie family. Specific nutrients like vitamin K and choline help strengthen focus and memory. But these mini-trees also have something called sulforophane, a sulfur-containing biomolecule, which has anti-inflammatory properties and powerful antioxidants. Sulforophane not only protects again degeneration of the brain, but as a recent study has found, it can actually stimulate neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation, which repairs brain cells!
So if you feel like you struggle in the brain department, incorporate more broccoli into your daily diet. If you want to get even more benefits, eat broccoli sprouts (three- to four-day old broccoli plants), which contain even higher amounts of sulforophane.
How to enjoy: Roasted broccoli, nutty broccoli soup, raw broccoli dipped in hummus
Blueberries, and berries in general, have received a lot of notice due to their antioxidant content. The hype is not overstated. Blueberries contain antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which have been found to improve neuronal and cognitive brain function, as well as have a positive impact on memory.
Blueberries also contain flavonoids that can reverse the cognitive decline your brain experiences as you age, so you can stay mentally sharp. Out of all the berries, blueberries have been shown to take the cake when it comes to nutrient density with significant levels of anthocyanins, flavonoids, and proanthocyanidins. They are a big gift in a small package.
How to enjoy: On their own as a snack or blended in a smoothie
3. Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Ever heard of it? The mushroom family expands deep and wide past the basic button variety. Lion’s mane has been used for centuries in Asian countries, but recently emerged in the mainstream. Lion’s mane is one of the most powerful brain foods out there. A study found that this particular mushroom stimulates the production of nerve growth factor, which is important for maintaining the health of your neurons. Neurons are what assist your brain in processing and transmitting information. When you read an article, like this one, the neurons provide the ability to understand what you are reading. Consistency is key with this brain food. For full cognitive function benefits, consume 250 mg of lion’s mane for four weeks to experience all the focused power this mushroom provides.
How to enjoy: Matcha Tea with Lion’s mane mushroom
If you only do one thing to improve your cognitive skills, let it be eating avocados! These smooth, decadent, green fruits are a major powerhouse when it comes to brain health. Avocados are packed with monounsaturated fats, lutein, and fiber. Lutein is easily absorbed in avocados, which helps increase neural lutein levels. The lutein in avocados have been found to increase working memory and focus, as well as improve eye health. A study showed that eating one whole avocado a day improved memory, attention span, and efficacy in solving problems. If eating an avocado a day can do all that, it’s time to add this fruit to your regular shopping list.
How to enjoy: Make an avocado pesto with basil, avocado, pine nuts, lemon, salt, pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil to use as a dip, on zucchini noodles, or with roasted vegetables.
5. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a large part of the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to be highly beneficial for brain health and reduce incidence of dementia. Researchers believe the benefits are largely related to the high consumption of extra-virgin olive oil. EVOO has powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that provide the medicinal benefits.
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported that EVOO consumption reduced memory deficits and improved learning capabilities in mice. It also reduced the oxidative stress on the brain, which reduces damage that can cause impaired memory. Further research will need to be done before the same can be said about the benefits in human, but this is promising.
How to enjoy: Use extra-virgin olive oil as a base for your homemade salad dressings, in pestos, or as a finishing oil in soup.
Have you ever noticed that a walnut looks like a brain? The shell is the skull, and the nut inside is the brain. Isn’t that cool? Nature may be telling you exactly what to eat for brain health. A study done at the University of California, Los Angeles concluded that by simply eating a small handful of walnuts (13.1 grams compared to a 100 grams/1 ounce standard serving) per day, you can improve cognitive function—regardless of how old you are, if you’re male or female, or what ethnicity you are.
Walnuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve overall brain health. Add walnuts to your healthy snack list, because it doesn’t take much to have a wonderful effect!
How to enjoy: Walnuts + dark chocolate make a delicious snack
7. Cocoa (a.k.a. Dark Chocolate)
Who wouldn’t want to eat chocolate if it helps you focus in addition to tasting great? The cacao bean comes from a tree, gets processed into cocoa, and then the cocoa is the basis for dark chocolate that you see in stores. What make it so beneficial? There are compounds in dark chocolate called cocoa flavanols. These flavanols have been found to improve brain function in the elderly when consumed on a daily basis.
Cocoa improves cognitive function, but the reasons why have yet to be studied. To reap the full benefits when consuming dark chocolate, reach for a bar that is 80 percent or higher in cacao content. The higher percentage of cacao, the more brain boosting flavanols it will contain.
How to enjoy: Organic dark chocolate squares (1 oz servings)
Consuming these seven foods on a regular basis can help improve your cognitive function and make it easier for you to focus. Your brain is an organ that needs fuel. And because the brain is one of the most important organs, feeding it premium fuel is important if you want optimum function. Incorporate these foods to help you focus and reap the benefits. Mental fog and difficulty focusing may soon be a thing of the past!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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