Everyone loves lists these days, it seems. So while there are numerous natural foods, drinks, herbs and supplemental products that possess brain & body-enhancing properties, we’ve done the research for you and created a list of five all-natural, widely-available foods that we believe represent the 5 Brain Health Foods in the world.
Our list is based a variety of factors, ranging from overall proven health benefits (through multiple scientific studies from around the world), our own experience using these foods regularly, lack of contraindications from these foods, and general availability of the foods to most people.
It’s important to keep in mind that just because we didn’t include a food like Turmeric or Sage or Walnuts in our Top 5, this doesn’t mean that those foods aren’t incredibly brain and health-friendly too; they just didn’t make our TOP 5.
So without further adieu, here are the Top 5 Brain Health Foods worth considering adding to your diet if you haven’t already (of course, make sure you don’t have any contraindications with any of these foods by consulting your health care provider first if you’re not sure). These are not listed in order of priority, as all are beneficial in different ways and via different mechanisms:
1) Wild Salmon
Wild salmon is not only an incredible food for brain health, it qualifies as incredible across virtually every other health standard as well and is clearly one of the healthiest foods that one can eat. Period. Wild salmon (not farm-raised) in particular is a true brain food: one of the best sources of Essential Fatty Acids (such as the all-important Omega-3), a rich source of high-quality animal protein, low saturated fat, generally among the lowest amounts of contaminants (such as mercury) among seafood, and other health properties — wild salmon can help do everything from improve your brain matter, your mood, your synaptic connections, your arteries, reduce your risk of stroke and Dementia and Alzheimer’s and much more.
It’s also important to know that only WILD salmon has been shown to contain the highest levels of the good stuff that your brain & body crave…as wild-caught fish grow and evolve their muscles, tissues and fat levels the hard way, fighting for survival of the fittest in the oceans and rivers. By contrast, many or most farm-raised salmon exist in a locked-up, artificial and sometimes contaminated environment and thus have to be fed food (or worse, color added later just before going to market!) to make them LOOK orange and healthy instead of white and sickly. Ewww!
While there ARE some good sustainable, eco-friendly, health-focused farmed salmon operations out there, I’ll take my salmon fresh and wild and naturally orange in color, thank you…as long as wild salmon remains a mostly non-endangered fish species (particularly in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska). Even if it costs more. Your brain and body are worth it.
2) Cacao Beans
This means chocolate, right? I’ve been looking for an excuse to hit that vending machine and grab a candy bar…it has chocolate in it, so now it’s actually healthy, right?
WRONG. (mostly): what’s healthy is the cacao bean, minimally processed. This amazing, bean is one of the world’s longest-revered foods (going back to the Aztecs) and has in recent years been shown to be a powerhouse of cognitive enhancement and mood enhancement (thanks in part to the Theobromine in cacao), antioxidants, flavonoids, catechins and many other brain & body-enhancing elements.
How is this possible, something usually thought of as an unhealthy, guilty indulgence, is now being hailed as beneficial to everything from brain health to skin elasticity to cardiovascular health to anti-cancer and pretty much everything in between? It’s simple: chocolate does not equal cacao bean, nor vice-versa; most candy and chocolate bars contain not only low levels of cacao bean compared to other unhealthy ingredients such as sugars, milk fat, artificial flavorings and so on, but the quality and processing of the cacao used in these products is often of low health benefits due to everything from alkalization (e.g. “Dutch process cocoa”) to refining and processing and over-roasting the healthy elements right out of the beans.
So if you want the real stuff, the best bet is to either use 100% organic non-alkalized cocoa powder from a quality maker who minimally processes the cocoa to ensure that the health properties are retained, or, second best, choose only high cacao percentage dark chocolate bars (typically at least 75% cacao content or higher, but we suggest 85% or higher), also from a high-quality provider.
We’ve found it easiest to just mix a large spoonful of 100% organic cocoa powder with a bit of espresso, organic milk and some cinnamon, in the morning to make a hot chocolate-like drink not unlike what the ancient Aztecs used to make: it’s one tasty, brain & body-fueling drink that gives you your pure cacao bean dose without the sugars and milk fat, you get your protein from the milk, brain-enhancing (and blood sugar-stabilizing) cinnamon, a little brain-enhancing caffeine from the espresso and theobromine (plus more) from the chocolate. Ideally no sweetener should be added. Use stevia if you MUST…
All that in one tasty drink that really gets you going!
In summary, yes: chocolate is a brain health food. Or more specifically, the cacao bean is a true brain health and body health food. And worth considering adding to your diet (barring any allergies to chocolate or contraindications, of course).
3) Matcha (stone-ground Gyokuru green tea powder)
So those green tea bags at the office water cooler aren’t the ultimate form of green tea? Do I need something better? What brand of tea bags ARE better?
If you’re used to getting your tea from tea bags, you’ll need to put aside notions of brands, tea bags, and tea in general for a moment and take a big step back: Matcha — which is the finely-ground powder of the highest-quality, most revered part of the shade-grown green tea plant (Gyokuru leaves…the very top part of the shade-grown green tea plant then dried to become”Tencha”) carefully grown, selected, dried, stone-ground, processed and prepared according to an ancient Japanese tradition, is not your average green tea. Nor does it come in tea bags. Nor do you brew it, boil it, or consume the watery extract from leaves.
When you drink real stone-ground Japanese Matcha, you’re not only drinking the arguably highest-quality, most carefully cultivated green tea variety, you’re actually consuming it all — you’re eating the whole thing, you’re drinking the green tea leaf itself, whole, in powdered form mixed with hot (but not boiling!) water. The powder itself is so rich in chlorophyl (from the shade growing) that it’s literally bright green, and when mixed with water it becomes a rich, bitter-sweet, green-colored concoction. Some say, you can feel its effects almost immediately after drinking a cup (or small bowl, if doing it the traditional Japanese way) of it.
Perhaps best known as the traditional, ceremonial drink tightly interwoven with the Buddhist ceremonies and tradition, Matcha’s unique effects on the brain were a perfect fit for those monks in Japan preparing to endure 12-hour straight meditation sessions: calming and focusing while stimulating at the same time, it’s no wonder that Matcha became integrated into the monks’ meditative practices (thanks in large part to the amino acid L-Theanine).
But as Matcha has become more known (and researched) in the West recently, even more exciting are the health properties being discovered and reported (and yes, now marketed as buzzwords by tea companies..have you seen that EGCG commercial for a bottled green tea maker?). You’ve probably already heard about many of the health benefits of green tea in general, so imagine those benefits amplified exponentially (up to 10x or more!) in the case of Matcha…as you’re drinking an extremely concentrated, ultra-high quality form, straight. Antioxidants, catechins, vitamins such as C and A, even Fluoride. And the meditatively calming yet focusing effects of L-Theanine.
But perhaps best known is EGCG: Epigallocatechin Gallate, a compound found uniquely in green teas which has been shown to possess almost unbelievable anti-cancer, anti-aging and overall health benefits…so much so that ‘EGCG’ has become a health marketing buzzword for tea companies. Here’s where Matcha is really unprecedented: Matcha contains exponentially higher amounts of EGCG than regular brewed green tea (including high-quality fresh Sencha green tea). Matcha also has over 33 timesthe antioxidant levels of antioxidant powerhouse blueberries(!)…hard to believe, but real.
So if you’re looking for a great way to get a blast of antioxidants (not to mention EGCG, vitamins, minerals, etc.), boost your brain with Zen-like concentration and physical benefits, it’s hard to beat Matcha. And you can’t get that with a tea bag.
A word of warning: not all Matcha is created equal! There are many non-Japanese (as well as Japanese) products out there called ‘Matcha’ that are often nothing more than powdered low-quality green tea, or worse, a mixture of ingredients with artificial green coloring(!). The stone grinding method is also very important, as low-quality Matcha is sometimes ‘exploded’ instead of stone-ground, reducing the health properties.
Two excellent, reputable brands of Matcha are:
4) Acai berries & Blueberries (tie)
There are many health benefits from the highly unusual South American native berry called Acai…a berry that possesses not only all of the antioxidant, vitamin and brain benefits of other purple berries such as blueberries and blackberries but also (oddly, for a berry) contains Essential Fatty Acids like Omega-3’s like salmon, and and is even high in protein.
Sounds like a a true superfood, right? It is. With proven ORAC antioxidant levels higher than any other berry ever tested, Acai’s unique combination of health properties make it a true superfood for brain and body. Of course, we’re talking about fresh Acai berries here…not some local generic health food shop pills claiming to contain Acai. And that’s where the challenge can come in, as Acai needs to be quickly processed (flash-freeze dried, flash-frozen, etc.) and maintained and processed if you’re to get the full benefits of this berry outside of South America.
Fortunately, companies like Sambazon and Bolthouse have created amazing local growing and processing facilities to do exactly that, and we can now buy great Acai in various forms in the U.S., Australia, Europe and beyond these days including our personal favorite: the Sambazon Organic Acai Powder (their ‘PowerScoop’ product) as well as in Sambazon and Bolthouse refrigerated juice blends. Both of which, along with many of their other products can be found at sambazon.com.
Then there’s blueberries: it didn’t seem fair to leave this time-honored, well-researched superfood off the list, particularly given its reputation as the ‘brain berry’ and its wide availability in fresh, original form (compared to Acai). And given how relatively easy it is to add blueberries to your daily diet, the combination of proven health benefits with ready availability make it a no-brainer to consider eating blueberries daily if possible. Think about it: what would your brain health, brain abilities, disease/risk profile, and overall health be like 5 or 10 or 20 years from now if you consumed blueberries every day? Exactly…
I won’t elaborate as much on the blueberry, as it’s benefits are widely know. However, for anyone whose been living under a rock or for those look to refresh their memory….you can gather more information here.
5) Coffee beans
Ah, coffee. So popular, so ubiquitous, yet still so surprisingly misunderstood when it comes to “healthy or not”. How can this be?
You’d think that virtually everyone would be an expert on coffee these days, given the explosion of coffee chains like Starbucks over the last decade. Perhaps it’s because the situation is much like chocolate: the coffee bean, much like the cacao bean, is incredibly rich with antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Fresh-ground gently roasted coffee bean powder (again, like with cacao) has numerous brain and body health benefits…yes, including the caffeine content which has recently been shown to be GOOD for the brain, not bad, and particularly in the area of antioxidants. Regular coffee consumption has been shown to actually reduce the risk of mental decline and diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s, and has also recently been found to be (shockingly) the “#1 source of antioxidants in the average American diet”…showing at once how health food-deprived the average diet continues to be while illustrating the surprising health benefits of something as common as coffee.
So where’s the controversy and confusion? The problem comes in when coffee is combined with other unhealthy things, as is so commonly done: triple-carmel-double-whip-chocolate-creme-mocha-blast-freeze drinks, weak over-extracted brewed cheap poor quality coffee, coffee loaded up with artificial cream and sweeteners, you know the drill. Compare such carb, chemical and fat-laden concoctions with, say, a high-quality organic coffee freshly ground into an Espresso-grade powder and served as a couple shots of fresh espresso, straight? No comparison. This should be obvious, but surprisingly, many or even most people still don’t get it.
Equally odd is that for many people, coffee is still viewed as a ‘vice’, something bad for you, something ‘naughty’ that should be avoided…as if it were akin to smoking cigarettes or pounding shots of tequila. The origin of this bizarre thinking comes partially from the effects of the caffeine (and other elements) which contribute to the stimulating effects of drinking coffee, and yes, for some people, coffee is contraindicated due to sensitivity to caffeine or gastrointestinal effects that coffee can sometimes produce. Also, coffee can be used as a way to counter act chronic lethargy and other issues that are a result from dehydration, or other nutrient deficiency. In these cases, a high/over-consumption of caffeine can be bad. We usually recommend consuming no more than 2 cups of coffee per day.
Generally speaking, the coffee bean is a safe, true superfood. And when properly consumed in ideal forms (such as pure Espresso), it’s one uniquely enjoyable beverage that also packs a host of brain and health-friendly properties to boot!
So there you have it: a simple list of 5 brain health (and overall healthy) foods to consider adding to your diet (barring any allergies or contraindications) if you’re interested in optimum brain health, overall health and longevity, and optimal aging.
It’s important to note however that none of these foods nor any other food, drink, supplement or drug is a “wonder drug” that will produce miracles, especially overnight. There’s no magic cure, wonder drug or superfood panacea that one should consume at the expense of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle, nor should you have unrealistic expectations around what any one of food can do for you. Rather, the foods cited here (like other healthy foods) are foods which have been shown to be particularly, often uniquely, beneficial when consumed consistently in moderation over time along with the rest of a healthy diet. And given that science is still in the comparative early days of understanding the complex mechanisms by which foods and nutrients affect the brain and body, it is likely that the subtle, complex interactions and combinations between several healthy food sources, combined with other healthy lifestyle practices such as exercise/healthy social interaction/genetic disposition and other factors, all work synergistically together to “balance the odds” in favor of (or against, if your diet is poor) optimum health.
Therefore, it’s not enough to think “okay, I’ve added Matcha to my diet…I’m done!”. That’s why we here at mikebfit try to incorporate all of these five brain-friendly foods into the daily diet, along with other healthy foods and in combination with brain exercises, physical exercise, and overall well-being practices.
Nonetheless, these 5 foods are a great way to get started if you’re interested in keeping your brain and body healthy as you age, and yes…one or more of them just might make that critical difference in your current and future health. So why not tip the scale in your favor, and feel great while doing it?