This post is part of our Brain Food Series where we’ll explore the food choices for a sharper, clearer mind.
While we love to kick off our mornings with a superfood breakfast, you can eat them any time of day . . . just as long as you DO consume them on a regular basis, your brain will thank you. So you probably already know that you should be eating real food including way more more fruits and vegetables. But have you ever wondered what specific foods you should be eating on a daily basis so your brain will function at optimal health? If so, then you’re in the right place.
Grab a glass of water (your brain loves to be hydrated) and settle in for some nutritional knowledge.
BRAIN food: Walnuts
Have you ever noticed the striking resemblance between a walnut and the human brain? It’s uncanny.
Maybe that's nature's way of giving us a little memory nudge to remember that walnuts are a superfood.
Your brain loves walnuts. Specifically, the high concentration of the Omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and antioxidants nourish your brain. Omega-3s are called essential fatty acids because unlike some other fatty acids, our body cannot manufacture them and needs to acquire them through our diet.
How much should you be eating? The daily recommended serving of walnuts is one-quarter cup, equivalent to 1 ounce, 12 to 14 halves, or about a handful. Eat the skins too since 90% of the polyphenol components are in the skin.
While ALA and DHA are not interchangeable, the ALA in walnuts still provides a powerful punch.
What the research says
According to Harvard Health, a UCLA research study found that walnuts helped students achieve higher scores on cognitive tests.
Research has shown for years that walnuts help people feel full. But they recently discovered why. And in one interesting study, the neurocognitive effects of walnuts included activating the appetite regulation part of the brain to reduce food cravings. Full disclosure: this study was funded by the California Walnut Commission but conducted independently and supported by a Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center grant.
In the study the “Role of walnuts in maintaining brain health with age“, they found that:
“Primary prevention in many of these neurodegenerative diseases could be achieved earlier in life by consuming a healthy diet, rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, which offers one of the most effective and least expensive ways to address the crisis. English walnuts (Juglans regia L.) are rich in numerous phytochemicals, including high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and offer potential benefits to brain health. Polyphenolic compounds found in walnuts not only reduce the oxidant and inflammatory load on brain cells but also improve interneuronal signaling…”
In summary, walnuts are loaded with amazing compounds that feed our brains and can be a powerful way to prevent aging problems before they happen.
Quick tip: in order to reduce exposure to lectins (which we’ll talk about in depth in a future post), we soak the walnuts for at least 7-8 hours at room temperature, rinse and drain, and then either toast at a relatively low oven temperature or store in the fridge dusted with some sea salt. Here's why we soak our tree nuts.
If you have a tree nut allergy, obviously skip walnuts and explore other sources of plant-based Omega-3s, such as chia seed which we'll dive into in another post.
Brain Food: Blueberries
The humble blueberry belongs in your arsenal of superfood. Like walnuts, blueberries fall into the category of superfoods that are delicious while still addressing major health concerns.
When you buy your blueberries, make sure that they're organic (or at least grown without pesticides if they're not organic certified at your local farmers' market) because blueberries have been found with more than 50 different pesticides! 😱 They're not on this year's EWG's Dirty Dozen list, but it's a smart idea to get these without pesticides.
And a very cool thing? Frozen blueberries offer the same benefits as fresh. You can also incorporate dried blueberries into your granolas and trail mixes, but do try to find a a brand of berries with no sugar added (or make your own in a dehydrator!). If you can get your hands on Alaska wild blueberries, you're in for a powerful antioxidant powerhouse, with an antioxidant profile 3-5 times higher than cultivated berries from the lower 48 states. Now THAT'S a superfood!
What the research says
Blueberries are an antioxidant powerhouse; they have the highest antioxidant value of any commonly eaten food and they can reduce oxidative stress by 20%. Associated with reducing obesity and metabolic syndrome, they protect both your DNA and your cholesterol from deteriorating. Compounds in blueberries improve neuron signaling and they collect in the areas of the brain associated with intelligence and memory care.
Smart ideas for a superfood breakfast
So now we know that we should be (or at least could be, we're all about choices and not forcing anything) eating blueberries and walnuts as part of our regular diets. Want a few ideas for incorporating them into your menu planning?
What works for us might not work for you, so we try to provide as many mix-and-match options as possible. Get creative and mix and match your power breakfast.
- Blueberry coconut smoothie (with leafy greens) or smoothie bowl
- Blueberry chia pudding
- Blueberry Kombucha (or made into blueberry kombucha popsicles!)
- Overnight oats with blueberries and walnuts
- Gluten Free Cashew Butter Pancakes with blueberries and walnuts
- Super smoothie – for children before school, try a blueberry smoothie with a small handful of walnuts blended in. If you have a high powered blender, the walnuts simply add to the creaminess.
- Bowl of frozen blueberries – another before school staple in our household, our kids love partially defrosted blueberries.
- Blueberries topped with full fat yogurt, lightly sweetened whipped cream, or coconut cream
- Paleo walnut “granola” with chia seed, blueberries, and shredded coconut
10 Foods for Better Brain Health
We'll dive into each of these foods in our Brain Food series, but if you're not already eating these foods, you might want to start adding them into your daily menus. Because when it comes down to it, brain foods are a smart idea.
- Coconut Oil
- Dark Chocolate (70% or higher)
- Eggs (from free range-chickens)
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Salmon (also Sardines, Fish Oil, or vegan Omega-3s derived from algae)
- Turmeric (grab our recipe for a delicious turmeric golden latte)
Want more on brain foods and brain health? Check out these online resources: