21 Ways to Feed Your Brain

Are you unknowingly starving your brain?
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Feed Your Brain

You know that classic TV commercial featuring a fried 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, healthily 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 kitchen today.

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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 increased to higher IQs. They also contain a healthy dose of mood- and immune-regulating vitamin D.

Bonus Tip: Look for anchovies in glass jars instead of cans so you avoid the harmful can-lining chemical bisphenol A, or BPA.

Read More: The 10 Healthiest Fish on the Planet

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: Nearly half of people living with depression have low folate levels. Asparagus is a mood-boosting food loaded with the nutrient.

Bonus Tip: 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.

Read More: The 10 Best Hangover Foods

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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.

Bonus Tip: Avocados are rich in vitamin E and will add a bit of vegetarian protein to your diet. Add a slice to your morning eggs to start your day in a brain-healthy way.

Read More: How Fat Soothes Your Brain

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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.

Bonus Tip: Don't toss the beet greens! Sauté the folate-rich tops for even more brain benefits. Avoid canned beets, though. They usually come in cans lined with the toxic chemical BPA, a compound linked to heart problems and even cancer.

Read More: Canned Foods' Craziest Side Effect

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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 like plastics and pesticides. Blueberries are also rich in memory-improving antioxidants.

Bonus Tip: 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.

Read More: How to Work Berries onto Your Holiday Menu

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Blue Potatoes

Brain-Boosting Benefit: You might not find them in a grocery store, but blue potatoes often steal the show at farmer's market stands. The blue color comes from anthocyanins, antioxidants that improve short-term memory and simmer down inflammation in the body.

Bonus Tip: Always opt for organic spuds. Nonorganic potatoes fall on Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list for excessive pesticide contamination.

Read More: America's Top 20 Farmer's Markets

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Coconut Oil

Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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.

In fact, research from the University of Copenhagen suggests that coconut oil may postpone brain aging, with possible implications for Alzhimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Bonus Tip: Opt for a less-processed, raw form of coconut oil, such as Nutiva Organic Virgin Coconut Oil.

Read More: 4 Alternative Cooking Oils That Belong in Every Kitchen

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: This potent spice mix quells harmful inflammation. Animal study's suggest curcumin, curry's active ingredient, helps clear Alzheimer's-causing plaque proteins from the brain.

Bonus Tip: Sneak organic curry powder into pasta sauces, salad dressings, marinades, lentil soup, or hummus.

Read More: How to Cook with Spices

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Dark Chocolate

Brain-Boosting Benefit: Perhaps the most delicious brain booster, just a few ounces of dark chocolate can help fine-tune concentration, thanks to improved blood flow to the brain. In fact, increasing cocoa flavanoids can improve brain function and memory, according to research published in Nature Neuroscience.

Bonus Tip: Choose organic chocolate brands that treat cocoa farmers fairly, such as Theo Chocolate and Equal Exchange. And remember, the darker and purer, the better for your brain.

Read More: The Best Organic Chocolates

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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.

Bonus Tip: 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.

Read More: The Truth about Your Eggs

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Fatty Fish

Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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.

Bonus Tip: Avoid farmed salmon and opt instead for wild-caught 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.

Read More: The Truth about Salmon

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Grass-Fed Beef

Brain-Boosting Benefit: Grass-fed beef is loaded with conjugated linoleic acid, an important fat that offsets stress hormones and promotes blood flow to the brain.

Bonus Tip: 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. Visit EatWild.com to search for local pasture-based-beef farmers.

Read More: Your Guide to Buying Grass-Fed Beef

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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.

Bonus Tip: Opt for farmed mussels raised in the United States—it's a sustainable source and one lower in contaminants.

Read More: 5 Totally Simple Shellfish Recipes

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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.

Bonus Tip: 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 organic ceylon cinnamon to your oatmeal for a healthy diabetes-fighting effect.

Read More: The Healthy Grain Guide

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Olive Oil

Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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.

Bonus Tip: Olive oil is best enjoyed on salads or used for low- to moderate-heat cooking (280 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit).

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: Scientists have linked peppermint to an increase in alertness and memory function. Why? It acts like a natural stimulant.

Bonus Tip: 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 candy.

Read More: The Simple Trick That Strengthens Your Brain

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Pumpkin Seeds

Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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!

Bonus Tip: Try roasting your own pumpkin seeds, or try delicious, spicy pumpkin seeds from Eden Foods.

Read More: Learn the mood-boosting secrets of The Happiness Diet.

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: Regular old raisins are potent sources of boron, a compound that has been shown in lab tests to increase attention and improve memory.

Bonus Tip: 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.

Read More: The 10 Best Food Apps

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Swiss Chard

Brain-Boosting Benefit: This often-overlooked leafy green is loaded with magnesium, a nutrient required for proper biochemical reactions in the brain.

Bonus Tip: Try growing your own Swiss chard in the garden. By harvesting only the outer leaves, you'll have a homegrown supply all season long. Try rainbow chard for beautiful colors.

Read More: 5 Easy Recipes for Winter Greens

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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 healthily.

Bonus Tip: 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.

Read More: 6 Superfoods You Aren't Eating

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Brain-Boosting Benefit: 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.

Bonus Tip: Sip six to eight glasses of water a day.

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