As a certified brain health coach and biohacker, nutrition is a core pillar of optimal health and cognition. Although our brain only weighs about two pounds, it uses 20 – 30% of our daily caloric intake, so if we want clear thinking, a better mood, and more productivity, we have to choose what we consume wisely. The brain is also made of mostly fat and water, so healthy fats like avocado and olive oil are great brain foods, and it’s crucial to stay hydrated throughout the day. I recommend half your body weight in ounces of water per day (i.e., if you weigh 130 pounds, you will consume 65oz of filtered water per day.) We interview brain health expert, Kayla Barnes, and with mental health, can disclose how the best medicine for mental health can be right in your pantry. She highlights key ingredients and products and shares a full breakdown on how they impact your brain health. Keep reading to learn more!
Brain Foods, How To Eat A Brain Healthy Diet, According To A Brain Health Expert
The basics of a brain-healthy diet are:
Consuming whole foods
No processed foods
No refined sugars
Keeping blood sugar balanced
Organic dark leafy greens
High-quality protein sources
Healthy fats like avocado and extra virgin olive oil
Wild, low GI berries
Spices like turmeric
Generally, it is best to choose organic produce when possible, wild-caught for seafood, and grass-fed and finished meats. Typically I fast for roughly 16 hours each day. I believe that our bodies all benefit from taking a break from eating, but this certainly does not mean extended fasts are needed. Listen to your body. If you are hungry, you don’t need to force yourself to hold off, but I have found that after a few weeks of practice, your body normalizes fasting, and you will experience fewer cravings.
When I break my fast, I consume a protein-rich breakfast with either wild-caught salmon or wild bison as my protein source, an organic egg (high in choline), an arugula salad with lemon and EVOO, a few slices of avocado, and nutrient-dense smoothies with wild blueberries (blueberries are a superfood for the brain and loaded with antioxidants), collagen, colostrum, Alpha GPC, Keifer, and a few other brain-boosting powders. It’s important for neurotransmitter function to consume adequate protein and omega-3s, and wild-caught fatty fish like salmon are a great way to do so. If you do not like salmon, I recommend high-quality fish oil. They also have vegan options for EPA and DHA, which are essential nutrients for brain function and have neuroprotective properties. I also eat two brazil nuts. They have one of the highest concentrations of selenium to support thyroid function and the immune system. Ellagic acid found in Brazil nuts may also have neuroprotective properties. On the weekends, when I have a bit more time, I love to make omelets loaded with spinach, asparagus, parsley, and turmeric (turmeric is a powerful antioxidant, so load up on it whenever you can) cooked in grass-fed butter. The oils you choose to cook with are essential for several reasons. It is important to choose an appropriate heat oil. For example, avocado oil and ghee or grass-fed butter are OK for cooking at higher temperatures, while extra virgin olive oil is best for cold dressings and sauces or low heat. Second, we want to avoid inflammatory oils like canola and soybean, these oils are highly processed, and in general, a brain-healthy diet focuses on whole foods, not processed foods.
I also typically have a cup of coffee around this time. It’s best to hold off on coffee until 90-120 minutes after waking to allow your natural cortisol to spike. When choosing a coffee, I suggest choosing an organic and lab-tested brand – I personally love and drink Danger Coffee. Coffee is one of the most pesticide crops in the world, and given that it is the most widely consumed “nootropic,” it’s important to choose clean coffee. As a pre-workout or midday snack, I have a Mindright Superfood Snack Bar. I also love to bring these with me when I travel or am on the go. The best way to ensure you fuel your brain properly is to plan ahead or have a nutritious option on hand. The bars are loaded with brain-boosting ingredients like MCT oil (brain fuel), cordyceps (energy), ginseng (mood), and ashwagandha (calm). For dinner, I mix it up, but it typically is a lightly roasted or steamed vegetable like broccoli, bok choy, or sauteed spinach, as organic dark leafy greens are high in B6, B12, and folate (all-important for brain health) alongside a protein (typically sardines, wild elk, or an ancestral beef blend.) Another dinner might be a bed of greens with sardines, avocado mayo avocado, olive oil, a few soaked and sprouted walnuts, pistachios, or macadamia nuts. For a sweet post-dinner snack, I have dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher), which is high in flavanols that have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. Dark chocolate also contains the neurotransmitter phenylethylamine, which is involved in regulating moods and releases feel-good endorphins in the brain. Grabbing milk chocolate off the shelf doesn’t offer these benefits, opt for dark chocolate.