“Nootropics” have become a new buzzword lately. Thanks to America’s typical “There’s a pill for that” attitude, nootropics supplements – better known as “smart drugs” – were a $1.3 billion industry in 2015, and research predicts nootropics will be $6 billion industry by 2024. But there’s arguably a better solution than taking ‘cognitive enhancers’ in pill form: eating whole foods that possess nutrients that have been proven to be beneficial for the human brain.
Advocates of consuming foods that are nootropic say they may help maintain optimum brain health and even improve cognitive performance, but Dr. Angie Sadeghi, a board-certified Gastroenterologist and Internist, says that the real power in these foods is their ability to stave off the diminishment of cognitive function that comes with aging.
“It is safe to say that anyone over the age of 25 is merely trying to prevent the decline of their cognitive ability. After we stop growing, the name of the game is doing everything possible to see how slowly we can decline. These foods can possibly slow down the decline, but whether or not it will be noticeable is very hard to measure.”
Still, Dr. Sadeghi says that if people find committing to diets rich in brain food to be a useful tool in eating healthy, then they should go for it. “I think this method is a way for people to wrap their minds around the power of food. Many people are just not used to the idea that what we eat literally builds us in ways we can’t even imagine. When you are trying to help people understand this concept, it can be useful to focus on one area of the body at a time and slowly connect the dots.”
Sure, your brain can run on junk food, but the thinking is that it runs so much better when you are feeding it the fuel that helps is hum along the most efficiently. And while adhering to a nootropic diet won’t necessarily mean that you’ll never forget where you left your car keys again, these foods are linked to improved memory, focus, alertness and relaxation. And Dr. Sadeghi says that they may even help with thinking abstractly, and reducing the effects of anxiety and depression. Here are eight nootropic foods your brain will thank you for eating.
At this point, most adults understand that dark chocolate possesses some incredible, redeeming health benefits that other sugary candies do not. But not everyone realizes just what those benefits actually are. Flavanol-rich cocoa beans actually increase blood flow to the brain, and can even trigger the production of new brain cells in the dentate gyrus. In order to get the most bang for your buck, make sure you are snacking on bars that are labelled at least 80% dark chocolate.
Any excuse to pour yourself a glass of wine, right? The chief nootropic benefits in red wine are in its high levels of resveratrol, an antioxidant compound that targets the free radicals associated with some forms of cancer. Red wine consumption can also prevent the hardening of arteries as we age, and increase blood flow to the brain. Plus, resveratrol present in our bodies during a stroke can actually protect the brain from long-term damage.
Used medicinally in China for thousands of years, green tea packs a powerful nootropic punch. While the caffeine in green tea can give you an immediate uptick in energy and focus, it’s the L-Theanine amino acid in the tea that is proven to reduce stress and modulate brain waves. Green tea extract appears frequently in a host of nutrition supplements, but you can easily enjoy the benefits of it by just brewing a cup for yourself.
The coconut oil craze of the last decade kicked off largely because of the generous numbers of medium chain fatty acids (MCTs) present in the oil. MCTs bypass our bodies’ usual digestive system, and head straight to the liver, where they are converted to ketones. Our brains then use these ketones to produce Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), a chemical that literally fuels the brain, and improves memory and alertness. Coconut oil helps in the production of serotonin, and may even help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy.
Rich in choline, consuming eggs can assist our brains’ ability to transmit signals across neuronal membranes. Our bodies use the choline in eggs to produce acetylcholine, which aids the body in everything from achieving deep sleep to retaining new memories. Frequent egg consumption has been linked to higher cognitive performance, especially among the elderly.
These tasty blue orbs are packed with all sorts of vitamins and nutrients, but it’s specifically anthocyanin that earns these berries their place on the nootropic all-star list. Anthocyanin is an antioxidant that actually prevents the brain from aging. Anthocyanin is linked to improved memory and cognitive function, and even helps intra-cellular communication within our brains.
Long used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, turmeric possesses incredible nootropic benefits. This member of the ginger family stimulates neurogenic cellular creation, and is used in the treatment of depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and strokes. Turmeric also assists the brain in the production of serotonin and dopamine, two mood-elevating chemicals that help us to actually feel good, in addition to being healthy.
Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale and chard are one of the best resources for getting adequate levels of brain-boosting nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin into our bodies. These two chemicals have been linked to quicker mental recall, and increased capacity for memory. In fact, lutein is one of the only chemicals linked to high levels of intelligence in humans. So eat up!