How To Eat For A Stronger Brain

Diets usually focus on your body. Rightfully so: staying lean and muscular keeps you thriving well into your later years. But what is a sound body without a sound mind to run it? 

We found this interesting article on Bulletproof that we just had to share! 

What you eat also has a tremendous impact on your brain, which makes tweaking your diet a valuable opportunity to hack everything from mental clarity to anxiety and mood. Your brain uses food as fuel; fill it with premium, and it will run beautifully for years. Fill it with junk, and it will break down.

Polyphenols to keep your brain young

Right now, as you breathe, you’re flooding your system with oxygen, which your mitochondria (the power plants of your cells) latch onto and use to make fuel. They leave behind free radicals, the part of the oxygen they can’t use.

A few free radicals are good; they destroy damaged cells so you can replace them. But excess free radicals start attacking strong cells, causing inflammation and prematurely aging you. Chronic stress, toxins from smog and low-quality indoor air, mold, sugar, pesticides, and many other trappings of modern life produce free radicals at high enough levels to make you old fast.

The solution? Eat your veggies. All vegetables contain polyphenols that neutralize free radicals and prevent them from doing damage. Low inflammation boosts blood flow to your brain, providing it with the oxygen to make more energy [1]. Increased blood flow gives you stable energy and focus. Polyphenols also help you make more BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein dubbed “Miracle-Gro for the brain” that causes you to build new brain cells [2].

Dark green veggies are a good source of polyphenols. For an extra anti-inflammatory boost, add in dark red, purple, and blue plants. They tend to have the strongest polyphenols in the largest amounts. Here are some of the most powerful polyphenol sources:

  • Green tea contains theanine and catechins, both of which prevent cognitive decline [7,8]. Theanine also improves attention and mood when you pair it with caffeine [9], so take your green tea caffeinated. You won’t find green tea’s polyphenols in coffee. Drink a cup of each for extra cognitive performance in the morning. Psssst. Matcha is 10 times more potent than green tea!
  • Blueberries get their deep blue color from anthocyanins, potent polyphenols that increase blood flow [10] and, in animals, dramatically increase lifespan [11]. Blueberry polyphenols also directly increase BDNF, helping you create new brain pathways [12]. 
  • Pomegranates contain ellagitannins, special polyphenols that get directly into your mitochondria and protect them from damage [13]. In addition to that, your gut bacteria break pomegranate down into something called urolithins that may protect the brain from cognitive decline [14]. Avoid popular juices that include pomegranate - too much sugar.
  • Red cabbage contains anthocyanidins that are particularly powerful at curbing inflammation. They’re what give red cabbage its color; white or green cabbage doesn’t have the same powerful effect.

Most polyphenols are fat-soluble, so be sure you get them with a good dose of quality fat.

Omega-3s for inflammation and brain structure

There are two types of omega-3s that offer powerful brain upgrades. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) competes with omega-6 fats, decreasing inflammation across your whole body, and your brain in particular. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the main structural component of your brain and central nervous system [13]. In fact, there’s strong evidence that high-DHA diets played a huge role in the evolution of the modern human brain [15].

DHA is one of the most important factors in sharp memory and brain cell integrity [16]. It’s also essential for mood: a global study on fish consumption, DHA levels, and depression showed that eating more DHA-rich fish correlates strongly with greater happiness [17]. It’s not a proven cause-effect relationship, but it’s compelling.

The third kind of omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the variety of omega-3 in plants. Your body can’t use ALA, so it converts it to DHA and EPA … but the conversion is inefficient [18]. You only convert about 6% of ALA to DHA/EPA. All those superfood companies boasting that their plant-based products are high in omega-3s are using deceptive marketing; with the exception of a couple of species of algae, plants only contain ALA, which doesn’t actually do you much good. Get your omega-3s from animal fats (or algae, if you’re vegetarian/vegan).

Here are top sources of omega-3s (DHA and EPA):

  • Wild-caught, low-mercury fish. Alaskan salmon, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and trout are all good sources. Make sure they’re wild-caught, and if you get them canned, check that the cans are BPA-free.
  • Fish/krill oil. Krill oil tends to be a little better, but it’s also more expensive. 

Incorporating the above foods into your daily diet is a solid foundation for a fast, resilient brain.