Looking for brain foods to boost your business intelligence? While there are no proven foods that make you smarter, there are foods that help your brain perform at its best. Below, we’ll explore the science behind this, dig into a few things you may want to start incorporating into your diet and cover a handful of non-food tricks that can help you gain an edge too.
What Makes a Person Smart?
Many people consider intelligence quotient (IQ) scores as a definitive measure of intelligence. The folks at MENSA are likely to agree. The organization breaks down the “distribution of human intelligence” based on IQ scores and only accepts members who fall within the top two percent of the general population.
The catch is that the modern IQ test is more about gauging intellectual potential through a series of logic and reasoning questions. More recent research shows it’s largely influenced by motivation, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Furthermore, scores are impacted by factors such as health conditions, culture and environment, access to education, and nutrition per Healthline.
In other words, there’s no universal measurement of intelligence. The measure that’s used the most is not infallible, and it’s more about measuring potential, not knowledge or practical application thereof.
How Diet and Brain Function Are Connected
If you’ve ever been hangry at work, you don’t need to be told that skipping meals makes it hard to focus, but proper nutrition impacts cognitive function on much deeper levels too.
Your brain relies on all sorts of compounds produced by your body to function properly. Your body generally creates these compounds on its own, but it needs the right building blocks to do it. You get them by eating right.
Your brain also needs other parts of your body to function at its peak. For example, good cardiovascular health helps ensure your brain has adequate blood flow. Diet is a big part of keeping all your other systems healthy.
10 Foods That Can Boost Your Brain Function
Below, we’ll break down some of the best foods for brain health, how they support brain health, and alternate brain foods that might work for you if you’re on a special diet.
1. Leafy Green Vegetables
Consuming leafy greens like spinach, kale, collards, and lettuce have been linked with slower age-related cognitive decline, according to research published by the NIH National Institute on Aging. Researchers think it’s because they’re rich in folate, phylloquinone, nitrate, α-tocopherol, kaempferol, and lutein, which each provides some benefit individually.
Scientists compared two groups: those with high consumption, who eat 1.3 servings per day, and those with the lowest consumption who eat around 0.9 servings per day. Those who eat more are at least 11 years younger cognitively than their counterparts.
Compounds found in berries appear to protect the brain from oxidative stress, according to Rutgers research. The compounds also counteract advanced glycation end-products, also known as AGEs. These are proteins and lipids that become glycated after exposure to sugars. Because AGEs contribute to the development of atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in arteries, berries may help prevent issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
In studies, participants were given diets rich in strawberries and blueberries. Researchers found that those eating more berries perform better in memory tests. In tests with just blueberries, participants showed more blood flow to key areas of the brain as well as improvements in attention to tasks and memory.
Experts say that although blueberries tend to be chosen more for studies, the same compounds that are likely responsible for improved memory are also present in other vibrant berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
When you research brain-boosting foods, fatty fish is often at the top of the list. Omega-3 fatty acids are the magic compound when it comes to fish, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. More specifically, docosahexaenoic acid, otherwise known as DHA, has been shown to reduce brain inflammation that leads to cognitive decline and brain fog, thereby helping with improved memory. Researchers also note that those with low levels of DHA are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s later in life. Experts say it’s best to think of fish “as a savings plan for your brain, not a winning lottery ticket,” because results are typically seen with long-term consumption of oily fish versus immediate.
The goal here is to get two four-ounce servings of fish per week and to target options such as salmon, tuna, Atlantic mackerel, herring, and trout. While some fish, such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel, may also fit the criteria, it’s better to avoid them due to high mercury levels, according to the EPA.
Those on vegan or vegetarian diets can also get a boost through plant-based sources such as ground flax seed, walnuts, and chia seeds. These are rich in AHA, of which the body will convert approximately 15 percent into DHA, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Supplements made from algae may also be an option.
Certain nuts can be a boon for brain health too. Again, walnuts are a good source of AHA, according to research published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging. Similar to fish, improved cognitive function is usually only seen in participants with a greater long-term intake of nuts. Some nuts, such as almonds and hazelnuts, are rich in vitamin E, which is also associated with better mental performance.
5. Citrus Fruits
Vitamin C is crucial to cognitive performance because it’s a powerful antioxidant and works as a neuromodulator. It helps cells use neurological chemicals like dopamine. People with neurological issues like Alzheimer’s also typically have much lower concentrations of vitamin C compared to their counterparts, according to systematic reviews.
A single orange contains almost the full recommended dietary allowance (RDA), according to Healthline. Pink grapefruits, mandarins, and limes are also good citrus sources. Those wanting vitamin C from non-citrus sources can go for strawberries, brussels sprouts, or even broccoli, among other things.
6. Fermented Foods
Modest gains in cognitive ability are seen when people consume fermented foods, some studies show. Although researchers aren’t certain of the link or how it works, research suggests that fermented foods alter the composition of gut bacteria, which may make the body better at creating neurotransmitters such as GABA (related to mood, anxiety, and sleep), norepinephrine (related to alertness, attention, mood, and memory), serotonin (related to mood and sleep), and dopamine (related to sleep, mood, and attention).
Dairy products, including many kinds of cheeses, butter, and yogurt, are often fermented. Kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, sourdough bread, and soy sauce all fit within this bracket too. However, fruits, vegetables, cereals, and drinks may all be fermented too. They’re typically marketed as having probiotics or prebiotics, so they’re easier to spot.
Caffeine promotes central nervous system stimulation, which makes people feel more alert, according to research presented in Healthline. It may also boost the ability to process information and stimulates the release of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. Some research suggests it may help improve memory too.
With a typical eight-ounce cup of coffee containing 96mg of caffeine, coffee is one of the quickest ways to get a boost. It’s also one of the few options shown to reduce Alzheimer’s risk by 65 percent. Those put off by a morning cup of Joe may find black tea more palatable, which comes in at 47mg of caffeine per eight-ounce cup, or green tea at 28mg, according to the Mayo Clinic.
8. Dark Chocolate
The flavanols in cocoa are credited with giving chocolate many health benefits. Increased circulation and blood flow to the brain are seen in some studies. Improved attention, verbal learning, and memory have been observed in younger study participants consuming cocoa per NIH research. Older adults who are already experiencing some cognitive impairment may also see improved cognitive function with the help of cocoa flavonoids. Current research shows the chance of progressing to dementia may diminish too.
It’s important to note, however, that these studies focus on cocoa and mention dark chocolate because it contains anywhere from 50 to 90 percent cocoa solids. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, only has ten to 50 percent cocoa solids and is loaded down with sugar and other additives. If you’re trying to boost your brain power, it’s best to go with the darkest chocolate you can find.
When it comes to eggs, choline is the magic compound, and some of the most abundant amounts of this nutrient can be found in the egg yolks alone. The body uses it to create the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is responsible for mood and memory, according to NIH research. It’s also linked to greater dopamine availability.
A single egg boasts a whopping 147mg of choline, which is 27 percent of the RDA. The only thing that tops it is beef liver. A three-ounce portion delivers 65 percent of the RDA. Those hoping to avoid animal products can get choline through soybeans. A half-cup portion delivers 19 percent of the RDA.
Research on turmeric is still emerging, though experts think curcumin, the antioxidant that gives turmeric its yellow hue, may be good for memory too.
Older adults already demonstrating memory problems were split into two groups for a study. Half took 90mg of curcumin twice per day, and half took a placebo for 18 months. Those taking curcumin improved their memory test results by 28 percent over the course of the study. Researchers also noticed the group had lower levels of beta-amyloid and tau in the hypothalamus and amygdala brain regions; a sign that they may have reduced risk for Alzheimer’s thanks to the curcumin.
Turmeric is the best source of curcumin, though it’s also found in mango ginger and curry powder. Those put off by the taste can find it in supplement form, like what the study participants consumed.
Other Ways to Boost Your Brain
A person’s IQ tends to stay about the same throughout their life, so there’s little you can do to boost your IQ. However, there are some things you can do to help train your brain and keep it in top form that doesn’t involve food.
It may seem like a given that playing memory games would boost memory, but that isn’t always so, according to Dignity Health. What you play matters as much as you play. People who do word puzzles, for example, have better short-term memory, reasoning, and attentiveness. More research is needed to uncover other activities that genuinely help.
Cognitive decline, including dementia, is almost twice as common in adults who are inactive compared to their counterparts, according to the CDC. Target at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity to keep your body and your brain healthy.
Visuospatial Reasoning and Cognition Activities
Visuospatial reasoning relates to being able to understand how things work or fit together – for example, being able to read and use a map.
Completing jigsaw puzzles may also improve cognition, according to recent research. Those reporting years of jigsaw puzzling before the study tended to perform better than their peers on tests. Meanwhile, those both with and without prior experience also tended to perform better, but only if they connected at least 3,600 pieces in a 30-day period.
Learn a New Language
Previous studies have shown that being bilingual can delay dementia onset by several years, according to the BBC. The big question, then, was whether people with better cognitive abilities were more likely to become bilingual or if learning a new language was the trigger. Newer studies suggest the latter, with those learning a new language also improving in areas like attention and focus.
This may be because learning a new language is a novel activity, so engaging in other forms of cognitive stimulation may be helpful too. “The quality of the stimulating activity is important. For example, if the activity is novel, engaging, challenging, and enjoyable, that will arguably be better for your brain,” explains Duke Han, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Keck Medicine of USC.
Get Enough Sleep
A night of missed sleep does more than make you groggy. Sleep is imperative for brain plasticity. It impacts whether we’re able to process things we’ve learned during the day and makes it harder to remember what we’ve learned in the future, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Doctors also say that sleep facilitates the removal of waste products from brain cells.
Although sleep needs vary from one person to the next, experts say to target seven to nine hours per night. Anything less shortchanges your health. Anything more could be a sign of an underlying health condition.
Moderate stress can actually help improve brain performance by strengthening the connection between neurons, according to the Premier Neurology and Wellness Center. However, chronic stress is a whole different matter. Their research shows that stress may kill brain cells and shrink the brain. While the brain is constantly forming new neurons, those created during periods of stress are more likely to die within a week too.
Stress can also permanently change the brain’s structure. More white matter, which is responsible for communication, is created at the expense of gray matter, which is responsible for decision-making and problem-solving during times of stress.
Even minor stressful events can impact memory as well. For example, you’re more likely to forget where you put your keys when you’re running late. Experts say this is because your brain goes into “survival mode” instead of “memory mode” when you’re under stress.
Find ways to manage and relieve stress. Yoga and meditation work for some, while others prefer a workout or hot bath. It’s also helpful to delegate tasks that don’t need your direct attention, so you’re not bogged down by unnecessary work.
Keep Your Business Sharp with Invoice Factoring
Invoice factoring isn’t brain food, but it could be considered the same for your business. Instead of waiting 30 or more days to get paid, your factoring company advances you most of an invoice’s value as soon as the day you submit your invoice. At Charter Capital, we also perform free credit checks on your clients to help guide your decisions and handle collections for you, so you can focus on the core areas of your business and stress less about cash flow and working capital. To learn more or get started, request a complimentary rate quote.
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