How To Boost Brain Power With The Right Foods

by Isadora Baum, CHC

What we eat can affect our energy levels and ability to maintain mental focus and concentration during the day, and all of these things can definitely influence our productivity skills. Thus, eating foods that boost brain power can help make us more ready to tackle any tasks that stand in our way and to beat boredom and fatigue when the lulls hit (especially around that afternoon, 3 p.m. slump, right?), explained by nutritionist Jo Lewin on BBC Good Food.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on boosting their energy levels and mental sharpness during the day, in order to both excel in their daily work tasks and to promote greater living and healthiness. Feeling tired and unable to focus can be draining, and so it's important to try and boost yourself up when you notice your levels plummeting. If this happens, taking a few deep breaths and centering yourself might help, as it always helps me feel refreshed and recharged. If this doesn't seem appealing to you, reaching for the right foods that are filled with key nutrients to drive brain power can be just the fix. Here are 13 nutrients that boost brain power and that should be a staple in any work day.

1. Collagen

Collagen, a protein, can help boost brain power, says Sharon Brown, founder of Bonafide Provisions & Certified GAPS Practitioner, over email with Bustle. "Collagen in bone broth contains two important amino acids, proline and glycine, that help heal the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, replenish beneficial bacteria and, in turn, benefit other parts of the body, like the brain. The gut microbiome refers to the bacteria, many of them beneficial, living within the human gut," she explains. Take in broth form or purchase a supplement.

2. Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs, found in whole grains, for instance, can boost brain power and clear mental fog, advises Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN and spokesperson for America's Better Sandwich, over email with Bustle. "The key though is to choose carbs that provide plenty of fiber, along with a little protein and healthy fat. My clients have always loved one slice of Arnold® Bread Whole Grain 100% Whole Wheat bread with a TBSP of peanut butter, some slices of banana, and a drizzle of honey," Gans recommends for a recipe.

3. Glucose

Don't get too excited! This does not mean you should eat pounds of sugar each day! Glucose, in moderation and from healthy, natural sources, can boost concentration, says Gans. "Your brain needs glucose, which comes from carbohydrates, to function properly; without it you may find it hard to concentrate. I suggest that my clients eat a well-balanced breakfast consisting of 100% whole grains, lean protein and healthy fat to start their day on the right track," she says.

4. Fiber

"Carbohydrates with little to no fiber, such as white bread, provide us with quick energy in the form of glucose, but this can cause a crash in energy," says Gans. "To sustain our blood sugar and prevent feeling sluggish, your best bet is to choose foods that are high in fiber," she says. Such items include whole grains, beans and legumes, chia seeds and fresh fruits and vegetables, such as apples, broccoli and kiwi.

5. L-Theanine

Over email with Bustle, Simon Cheng, Tea Expert and Founder/CEO of Pique Tea says "there is no nutrient better for boosting brain health than L-Theanine which is the richest amino acid amongst all the amino acids found in tea. L-Theanine boosts the brain's alpha brain waves and when the brain generates alpha waves, we feel alertness without anxiety, calmness without sleepiness, creativity without distraction and focus without tunnel vision."

6. Vitamin B6

"Research shows that consuming certain B vitamins, like B6 may aid in preventing cognitive decline as we get older," advises Freeland Foods and Go Raw CEO and founder Robert Freeland over email with Bustle. He recommends eating seeds, like those found in watermelon and flax, for instance. Sprouted and raw seeds are packed with brain-boosting nutrition! Dr. Lisa Ashe, Medical Director at BeWell Medical Group recommends pumpkin seeds and nuts, over email with Bustle.

7. Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Much research has shown the connection between omega 3's and brainpower. Hunter Pechin, Brand Manager at Health Warrior says over email with Bustle, “omega 3’s and other healthy fats provide many benefits, including improving learning and memory and helping to fight against mental disorders such as dementia. Containing high levels of omega-3 content, chia seeds are just one of the many superfoods that are beneficial to brain health and development.” Another great source is fish!

8. Protein

"Protein is an important component of every cell in the body, so it’s no wonder the vital macronutrient can provide a considerable boost of sustained energy," explains Matt Lacasse, CEO & Cofounder of Birch Benders, over email with Bustle. "On the other hand, not consuming enough protein can be a primary reason for fatigue. A great way to start every day off with plenty of lasting energy is to eat a protein-packed breakfast each morning," he recommends, and protein-pancakes might just do the trick!

9. Iron

Iron, found in leafy greens, for instance, can boost concentration and beat fatigue, advises Elizabeth Stein, CEO and founder of Purely Elizabeth over email with Bustle. “Leafy greens are my top favorite pick as the most versatile and nutrient dense food. You can include greens raw in a salad, added to smoothies, sautéed with some simple garlic and oil, and much more," she says. Iron is also found in animal products, like beef, chicken and fish, as well as beans, legumes and tofu.

10. Fish Oil

Whether you love consuming fresh fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, or the taste disgusts you and you opt for supplements instead, getting in fish oils each day can benefit the brain and lower risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease later in life, as explained by Joe Hibbeln, M.D. Acting Chief, Section on Nutritional Neuroscience at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in interview with Eating Well. He recommends 900 mg to 2,000 mg/day for adults and 400-500 mg/day for kids. "Foods that are high in DHA (a type of omega 3 fatty acid) including salmon and other types of fish such as tuna, sardines, caviar, anchovies, bluefish, mackerel, swordfish, and herring," says Ashe, are great options.

11. Pre- and Probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics can help boost digestion and reduce inflammation in the gut, which then translates over to greater brain health and less inflammation in brain our cells, as shown through various research on how probiotics boost brain power and how prebiotics can also strengthen brain cells, as they are the food that probiotics feed on. Such probiotics are kimchi, Greek yogurt and kombucha, and prebiotics are asparagus, mushrooms and artichokes, among others for both.

12. Red Wine

Before downing a bottle, remember that drinking is healthy, in moderation, and so limiting to a glass or two will be enough to reap the benefits without damaging your health. In interview with mindbodygreen, Dr. David Perlmutter says that polyphenols found in red wine, as well as dark chocolate, can boost brain power. So enjoy and splurge!

13. Zinc

Perlmutter also says that zinc can boost memory retention, brain function and concentration and is found in many delicious and versatile foods, such as pumpkin seeds and nuts, such as almonds and walnuts. The latter two also boast vitamin E, another vitamin that he says protects the brain from damage.

When you feel your energy plummeting, reach for a handful of nuts or seeds, pop a fish oil supplement, sip on glorious, red, red wine, or snack on something filled with protein, such as a jerky, fish or legumes. Not only will your brain be happy, but so will your taste buds!

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