You are what you eat. That’s a phrase you’ve probably heard so many times you’re sick of it. But those five simple words have a lot of truth to them.
You are what you eat. Everything you put in your body has an effect on the way you think, look, and feel. That’s why if all you eat is junk food, you usually feel like crap. For you body and brain to function optimally, you need to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of healthy foods.
In this post, we’re going to look at 8 foods that can have a nootropic effect. All of them have been scientifically shown to improve one or more aspects of cognition.
The Top 8 Nootropic Foods
These are all common foods that can boost brain power. If you’re not already, try to get more of them in your diet. Here are the top eight nootropic foods.
This is a popular spice that comes from the inner bark of trees in the Cinnamomum genus. It has been used for thousands of years all over the world for cooking and baking. Cinnamon has also been used in traditional medicine to treat stomach problems and other conditions.
As a nootropic, cinnamon may improve memory. In one study, it was shown to reverse memory impairment in rats that were given a drug that negatively affects memory. Another study done on rats showed that cinnamon was able to turn poor learners into good learners.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been any studies done on humans to see if cinnamon has the same effect. However, it is reasonable to assume that it may. Cinnamon contains a number of compounds that are known to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, and anticancer effects. Once more research has been done, there’s a good chance that memory improvement will be conclusively added to this list.
Eggs are, in many ways, the perfect food. They’re loaded with protein, packed with vitamins and minerals, and have zero carbs.
One of the vitamin-like substances found in eggs is choline. This is an essential nutrient the body uses to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning. Eggs are the most concentrated source of choline in the typical Western diet. Just one egg contains 60% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of choline.
Eggs also contain a number of other essential vitamins and minerals. Just one medium-large egg provides the following percentages of your daily needs (RDA):
- Vitamin A – 19%
- Riboflavin – 42%
- Pantothenic Acid (B5) – 28%
- Vitamin B12 – 46%
- Phosphorus – 25%
- Zinc – 11%
- Vitamin D – 15%
These vitamins and minerals are all crucial for proper brain function. As you can see, eggs are loaded with cognition-boosting nutrients. If you don’t eat a lot of eggs, adding them to your diet may improve memory and other aspects of cognition.
These popular little berries are packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients. Over the past few years, blueberries have been getting a lot of attention for their ability to improve memory and prevent cognitive decline.
One study done in 2012 showed that higher intakes of blueberries and strawberries were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline. Another study done on rats showed that age-related cognitive decline could be reversed with high-antioxidant supplements which included blueberries.
A 2010 study done on older adults showed that blueberries had a number of positive effects. In addition to improving memory, blueberry consumption also improved mood and reduced glucose levels.
Adding blueberries and other foods high in antioxidants to your diet can have an impact on cognitive performance. In addition to blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and other berries are all high in these potent nootropic substances.
4. Dark Chocolate
That’s right! Dark chocolate can have a nootropic effect. But how is it different than other types of chocolate, like milk chocolate?
Dark chocolate (sometimes called plain, black, or sour chocolate) is a type of chocolate that contains cocoa butter, cocoa solids, and sugar. It does not contain any milk like milk chocolate does. While all forms of chocolate may have health benefits, dark chocolate has been studied the most.
Dark chocolate contains compounds called methylxanthines. The most abundant methylxanthines in dark chocolate are caffeine and theobromine. It’s no secret that caffeine has a number of nootropic effects. It can improve reaction time, wakefulness, and other aspects of cognition.
A study done in 2015 showed that dark chocolate consumption could stimulate cognitive functioning by increasing blood flow to the brain. Another study from 2016 showed that frequent chocolate consumption was associated with better visual-spatial memory, working memory, abstract reasoning, and other aspects of cognition.
Now, don’t get too excited. This doesn’t mean you should start wolfing down a pound of dark chocolate every day. It’s still high in calories and sugar. But adding a little bit to your healthy diet can certainly have a nootropic effect.
5. Broccoli Sprouts
While broccoli might not be nearly as delicious as dark chocolate, it can be just as beneficial for cognitive functioning. Broccoli sprouts are broccoli plants that are only a few days old. They contain high levels of a compound called sulforaphane.
Sulforaphane is a phytonutrient with powerful neuroprotective properties. It’s found in a number of cruciferous vegetables but is highest in broccoli sprouts. Sulforaphane is known to have anti-cancer effects and is associated with a reduced risk of developing several different types of cancer.
This interesting compound may also have cognition-boosting properties. When autistic young men were given sulforaphane for 18 weeks, the participants showed improvement in social interaction, abnormal behavior, and verbal communication. Improved mood and overall quality of life was also seen in the group of participants received sulforaphane.
These effects have yet to be studied in healthy adult populations, but studies like these are extremely promising. A lot of nootropic users have been adding broccoli sprouts to their diets over the past few years and have reported similar effects to the ones found in the study above.
6. Green Tea
You’ve probably heard about the benefits of drinking green tea. It’s gotten a lot of attention over the past few years for being packed with brain-boosting ingredients. Green tea has been enjoyed around the world for centuries and it just happens to be my favorite caffeine source.
Unlike other teas like black and oolong tea, green tea does not go through the same oxidation process. This is why it stays green. In addition to caffeine and l-theanine, green tea contains a number of beneficial polyphenols including epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This substance has interested researchers for years. Several human and animal studies have been done to test the health benefits of EGCG.
In a 2011 study, green tea extract and l-theanine was given to people with mild cognitive impairment. Unlike the placebo group, they showed improvements in both memory and attention. And in a 2014 study using healthy volunteers, researchers found that green tea extract increased working memory by improving the way different parts of the brain communicate with each other.
The potential benefits of drinking green tea aren’t limited to its nootropic properties. Researchers have studied the substances in green tea for their anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic, antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidative, neuroprotective, and other effects. It has even been shown to aid in weight loss by increasing fat oxidation.
As you can see, green tea has a number of positive effects. Researchers are still looking into all the different benefits it can provide. Add a cup or two of this delicious tea to your daily routine to experience the benefits of green tea. If you don’t like tea, you can get green tea extract in supplement form.
This is a popular spice that has also been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It is in the same family of plants as another popular spice: ginger. Turmeric contains a number of bioactive compounds, including curcumin. This substance has been the subject of several scientific studies, many of which look at its nootropic benefits.
A 2014 study compared the effectiveness of curcumin to fluoxetine (Prozac) at treating the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The study found that curcumin was as effective as fluoxetine. Another study from the same year found that curcumin was superior to placebo at treating the symptoms of MDD.
The benefits of curcumin are not limited to its ability to fight the symptoms of depression. Researchers have also studied the anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant effects of this compound. Curcumin has a wide variety of benefits and will surely continue to be the subject of scientific inquiry for years to come.
Turmeric is a potent spice that has been used in some parts of the world for centuries. If you like to cook, try adding it to some of your favorite dishes. If not, both turmeric and curcumin are available in supplement form.
8. Salmon & Other Fatty Fish
You’ve probably heard all about the benefits of eating salmon and other fatty fish. They contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have a variety of benefits. Over the past decade or so, omega-3s have been extensively studied. Although some of the results have been mixed, overall they’re very promising.
A 2011 study found that omega-3s were able to reduce anxiety and lower inflammation in healthy medical school students. Another study found that omega-3s could improve the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children with the disorder. Omega-3s have been extensively studied for their ability to treat the symptoms of depression. A meta-analysis from 2011 found that omega-3 supplementation was effective at fighting depressive symptoms. These types of analyses look at the results of previous studies and use statistical models to examine them. This meta-analysis looked at 15 studies and concluded that omega-3 supplementation was effective at fighting depression.
Salmon and other fatty fish like sardines and mackerel are all high in omega-3s. Try to eat at least 2-3 servings of fatty fish a week. If you don’t like fish, you can take omega-3 supplements. There are a number of high-quality omega-3 products out there but this is the one that I personally use. I’ve tried several and I find that this one provides the most benefits.