Written by Jenn LaVardera, MS RD, Registered Dietitian with Daily Harvest
We’ve partnered with our friends at Daily Harvest to highlight the importance of good nutrition that’s built on fruits and vegetables to inspire you to perform at your best. Carry these resources into your daily lives – for yourself and your patients.
It’s true—brain food is real. Thanks to nutrients like vitamins, healthy fats, and phytochemicals, some foods are better than others when it comes to thinking clearly. Next time you feel that midday slump at work or school, consider how food can help bring back your concentration and focus, and give your memory a boost. Here’s a list of 14 foods proven to help you concentrate and support your brain, along with tips on how to incorporate them into your diet. Aim to eat these foods on a daily basis with your breakfast, lunch or snack to help you tune in more at work.
Blueberries are one of the best foods for your brain, and the connection between blueberries and memory has been studied for decades. Research shows eating blueberries can help improve cognitive performance and memory—think better outcomes on tests and memory games. Blueberries owe their brain-boosting abilities to phytochemicals, which are compounds that give plants their unique colors. Blueberries specifically contain anthocyanins, which offer anti-inflammatory protection in the brain and help your brain function smoothly. Top yogurt and oatmeal with blueberries, snack on them with a drizzle of nut butter or toss them into your favorite smoothie.
Blueberries aren’t the only berry that benefits the brain; strawberries have brain power, too. Research finds eating berries can help with neurotransmission and signaling in the brain, likely thanks to those helpful anthocyanin compounds (which most berries contain in varying amounts). Snack on strawberries to give your brain a boost and increase your concentration while studying or working. Strawberries pair well with nuts and yogurt, or you can add them to green salads at lunch. More into raspberries and blackberries? They have anthocyanins too and are also a great choice to help you focus at work.
If tropical fruit is more your speed, papaya is a great option for brain health. Papaya is a top source of vitamin C; just one cup gets you over 100% of the daily value of this essential nutrient. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to help improve learning and memory, making it a great fruit for your brain. Add papaya to smoothies, fruit salads or parfaits, or just enjoy it straight up. Can’t find papaya? Other vitamin C-rich fruits include pineapple, mango and citrus fruits.
We typically think of fruits like oranges when we think of vitamin C, but plenty of vegetables are high in this vitamin, too. Bell peppers are a top source of antioxidant vitamin C; a small red bell pepper gives you over 100% of the daily value. Along with acting as an inflammation-fighting antioxidant, vitamin C plays a role in making neurotransmitters in the brain. Snack on bell peppers with hummus or guacamole, or add chopped bell pepper to salads or other dishes.
Chia seeds are something of the ultimate brain food. They are jam packed with omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Research finds omega-3’s help support brain health and function, which ultimately gives your brain a leg up when it comes to concentration and focus. Sprinkle chia seeds on yogurt or oatmeal, add them to homemade baked goods or granola, or make an overnight chia pudding. Even easier: Start your day with a Daily Harvest Chia Bowl to get your chia seed fix.
Salmon is another top food that can help you think more clearly. Salmon also contains omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You’ll find these healthy fatty acids in other fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and sardines. Omega-3’s are essential for brain development and can help prevent cognitive decline later in life. Add a portion of salmon to a green salad at lunch, or pair salmon with a Harvest Bowl from Daily Harvest. Salmon also has a place at breakfast: Enjoy some in an egg scramble or try smoked salmon on a slice of whole wheat toast.
There are so many reasons to eat more broccoli. Among other nutrients like vitamins A, C and K, broccoli contains choline, a vitamin-like essential nutrient needed for proper cognitive function and brain health. Broccoli is also rich in folate, a B vitamin also needed for brain development and function. Snack on raw broccoli and hummus or add broccoli to salads, pasta or stir-fry—it’s a versatile veggie and pairs well with almost any meal.
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense foods around and a top source of vitamin K, providing over 300% of the daily value in just one serving. Vitamin K has a direct connection to cognitive performance and has been linked to things like visual memory and verbal fluency. Like other green veggies, spinach is also loaded with brain-supporting folate. To help prevent that afternoon brain fog, introduce spinach into your lunch. Use it as a base for a salad, add it to sandwiches in place of lettuce or blend it into a smoothie.
Just like other leafy green vegetables, kale is chock full of brain-boosting nutrients like vitamin K and folate. Kale, along with other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, also contains a compound called sulforaphane. This sulfur-containing compound (yes, that’s why these vegetables have a strong smell) has been shown to have a neuroprotective effect and can help ward off brain diseases, making kale a top brain food. You can eat kale raw or cooked—try massaging raw kale with olive oil for a tasty kale salad.
Brussels sprouts have a healthy rep for a reason, and while they may not be everyone’s favorite vegetable, they could play a role in keeping you focused. They’re loaded with nutrients like vitamins A, C, K and folate, and also contain brain-boosting choline. To help you think more clearly at work or school, pack leftover roasted Brussels sprouts with your lunch or try a shaved Brussels sprout salad.
Eggs may have had a bad rap in the past, but we now know eggs are a nutrient-dense food that deserve a place on your plate. Along with good-for-your-brain choline, eggs are one of the few food sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D is strongly linked with brain development and mood (think: lower risk of depression). To get the most out of your eggs, eat the yolk, which is where most of the nutrition is (the whites are where the protein is). Start your day with a veggie-egg scramble, add an egg to your lunch as a protein boost or snack on a hard-boiled egg in the afternoon.
Walnuts pack the highest amount of those brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids compared with any other nut, making them one of the best nut options for your brain. Walnuts also contain vitamin E, an antioxidant nutrient that has been shown to help reduce oxidative damage in the brain. Thanks to their protein, fat and fiber content (the ultimate trifecta for promoting satiety), walnuts make a satisfying and brain-boosting afternoon snack. Pair walnuts with a piece of fruit for an extra dose of fiber and antioxidant nutrients. You can also add walnuts to salads or sprinkle them atop oatmeal or yogurt.
Turmeric has well earned its reputation as a healthy spice. Along with its ability to help reduce inflammation throughout the body, turmeric has been shown to specifically support the brain. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has antioxidant power and can help calm inflammation. Studies find turmeric supports the brain and may even be helpful in warding off Alzheimer’s disease. Add a sprinkle of turmeric to veggies or hummus, or try it in the Daily Harvest Ginger + Turmeric Latte.
All tea is nutritious, and matcha is no exception. Like other green teas, matcha contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a polyphenol plant compound linked with numerous health benefits, including benefits for the brain. In a study, people who ate matcha performed better on memory and cognitive tests. Other research has linked matcha to slowed cognitive decline later in life. Sip on matcha tea to help you focus and think more clearly.
Those aren’t the only 14 foods that will support your brain and help you concentrate at work or school. In addition to this list, focus on eating more of your favorite fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and lean sources of protein. These foods contain the nutrients your brain needs to stay focused and alert.
At the same time, limit consumption of ultra-processed foods, which have the opposite effect and can be harmful to your brain. Studies show that ultra-processed food (think: foods that are so processed you can’t even recognize the ingredients) can be detrimental to the brain and are linked with depressive symptoms. Examples of ultra-processed foods are packaged snacks with a very long shelf life, processed meats, and foods with lots of added sugar and sodium. Focus on eating unprocessed and minimally processed foods to better support your brain.
Along with eating a nutritious diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, there are other things you can do to help you focus and give your brain a boost. Try these 7 tips to help improve your focus and memory.
- Get regular exercise. Research shows consistent physical activity optimizes the molecular machinery responsible for memory processing. Aim to get in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week as recommended by the CDC.
- Take a nature walk. In one study, people who took an hour walk in a park did better on cognitive recall tests. The study found walking in nature was more helpful than walking in an urban area. If you can, take a walk in a park during your lunch break.
- Get a desk plant. Research shows working in an office with plants could increase productivity by 15%, likely because greenery helps make people more physically, cognitively and emotionally involved in their work. Succulents are easy to care for and make great desk plants.
- Do puzzles and brain teasers. For example, doing crossword puzzles has been linked with delayed onset of memory decline in older people. Try doing a puzzle with your breakfast or on your commute if you go by bus or train.
- Listen to music. In one study, people who listened to music before taking a test were more attentive than people who didn’t listen to music. Put on some tunes during your morning commute or while you settle into your workspace to jumpstart your day.
- Drink water. Staying hydrated can help prevent brain fog and keep you more focused. Aim to get about 8 glasses of water per day and try to limit beverages with added sugar like sodas or fruit punch. Eating fruits and vegetables will keep you hydrated, too.
- Schedule breaks into your day. Research shows even short breaks can dramatically improve a person’s ability to stay focused on a task for a prolonged period of time. Aim to take a short break every hour of your workday to help you stay focused and alert.
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Daily Harvest believes in a world well-fed. One where delicious food that’s built on organic fruits and vegetables is also incredibly convenient. The company works directly with farmers to grow the best produce, harvest it at the right time and freeze it all at the source to lock in flavor and nutrients. Daily Harvest creates its food with the people who eat it, resulting in a deep understanding of its customers’ taste preferences. By making the food customers actually want to eat, and ensuring it’s also quick to make and always on hand, Daily Harvest makes it easier for customers to eat more fruit and vegetables every day. In addition, the company pours heart, soul and, most importantly, resources into reducing food waste, prioritizing organic farming practices and going the extra mile for sustainable packaging. We take care of food, so food can take care of you. For more information, visit dailyharvest.com.