Food for Thought: 10 Brain Healthy Foods for Peak Performance


Brain health is total body health and impacts every aspect of our health and well-being. 

Modern life and its ensuing stress, sedentary lifestyles, and environmental factors require that we focus proactively on brain health more than ever before. From diet choices to physical fitness and movement, every action we take impacts our brain function and overall well-being. 

Luckily, research has uncovered a plethora of foods that are not only delicious but also great for our cognitive health. Incorporating these well-researched and studied foods into our daily nutrition plans can have a significant impact on our brain function, memory, and mood. 

Food is truly medicine. With the help of Viome’s Clinical Nutrition team, we compiled a list of 10 easy-to-find foods that are the best brain-boosting foods to include in our diets.

1: Eggs

Why we may recommend this:
E​​ggs are an excellent source of several nutrients tied to brain health, including vitamins B6 and B12, folate, and choline. Choline, in particular, is essential for the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning. Eggs are also a source of phosphatidylserine, a phospholipid that has been shown to reduce blood cortisol levels during stress.1

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume eggs and should avoid:
Suffer from excessive gas and bloating after consumption. The choline in eggs can be used by microbes in the gut to produce methane gas, and the sulfur compounds in eggs can be used to produce sulfide gas.2 

Eggs: Hard-boiled eggs are a quick and easy snack or meal that is packed with nutrients. You can also try making an omelet with spinach, mushrooms, and feta cheese.

2: Green Tea

Why we may recommend this:
Green tea contains L-theanine, which can enhance brain function. L-theanine binds to receptors in the brain and inhibits brain overactivity, resulting in a calming effect. This has been linked to improved memory and performance. It also provides antioxidants that may offer protective effects to the brain.3

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume green tea and should avoid:
Green tea contains caffeine, which some individuals are sensitive to and may disrupt sleep when consumed later in the day. Decaffeinated green tea can be purchased. 

A cup of green tea is a refreshing way to start your day. You can also add green tea to smoothies or iced drinks.

3: Fatty Fish

Why we may recommend this:
Fish like salmon, trout, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Omega-3 fatty acids are found in the cell membrane of brain cells and aid communication between brain cells. Omega-3s have been associated with increased learning and memory and a lower risk of cognitive decline.4

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume fatty fish and should avoid:
Certain fish like trout are higher in purines. Purines are a natural compound in food that is known to cause gout. If you suffer from gout, you should avoid foods high in purines.5 

Fatty fish: Salmon is a delicious and healthy fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids. You can bake, grill, or pan-fry salmon.

4: Turmeric

Why we may recommend this:
Turmeric contains an active compound called curcumin, which has potent antioxidant and properties to reduce physiological stress. Curcumin has been linked to improved memory and may help protect the central nervous system.6

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume turmeric and should avoid:
While turmeric has many known health benefits, it also increases the body’s bile acid production. Bile acids are important in the digestion of fats. However, if your gut microbes show increased metabolism of bile acids, then the excessive cholic acid may contribute to a pro-inflammatory environment in the gut.7  

Turmeric powder can be added to curries, soups, or stews. You can also make a turmeric latte by adding turmeric powder, ginger, and honey to hot milk.

5: Broccoli

Why we may recommend this:
Broccoli is an excellent source of antioxidants and contains compounds called glucosinolates. These compounds have been shown to slow the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps to create and strengthen connections between neurons in the brain, aiding learning and memory.8

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume broccoli and should avoid:
Broccoli naturally contains organo-sulfur compounds, like glucosinolates, which can contribute to sulfide gas production in the gut. If you experience gas and bloating, avoiding or minimizing broccoli may be best. The glucosinolates in broccoli can also interfere with iodine uptake and thyroid function, and as a result broccoli may not be recommended for individuals with thyroid conditions.9  

Broccoli can be steamed, roasted, or stir-fried. You can also add broccoli to soups or salads.

6: Shiitake Mushrooms

Why we may recommend this:
Shiitake mushrooms naturally contain gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter or signaling molecule that can block certain signals in the central nervous system. This can have a calming effect on brain activity. GABA also regulates neuronal signaling in the brain related to memory. Shiitake mushrooms also contain the amino acid ergothioneine, which may have neuroprotective effects. Ergothioneine helps protect brain cells from oxidative damage and inflammation, potentially supporting a healthy central nervous system.10

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume shitake mushrooms and should avoid:
Shiitake mushrooms are considered a high-FODMAP food. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that cause digestive upset for some individuals, such as those with IBS or SIBO.11 

Shiitake mushrooms can be sauteed, grilled, or added to soups or stews.

7: Cinnamon

Why we may recommend this:
Cinnamon contains phytochemicals that have been shown to have antimicrobial properties in the gut. Cinnamon may inhibit microbes and their activity that, result in ammonia production. Ammonia produced in the gut also contributes up to 50% of ammonia found in the blood, which can negatively impact neurotransmitter production and cognitive function.12

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume cinnamon and should avoid:
Cinnamon is generally safe at doses added to food and offers many health benefits. If you suffer from liver conditions like cirrhosis, limiting the amount of cinnamon consumed may be beneficial. Cinnamon contains coumarin, which may contribute to liver damage in those susceptible.13

Cinnamon can be sprinkled on oatmeal, yogurt, or fruit. You can also make a cinnamon tea by adding cinnamon sticks to hot water.

8: Spirulina

Why we may recommend this:
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae. Spirulina has been shown to have neuroprotective properties. Animal studies suggest that spirulina extracts can protect against neurotoxicity, and oxidative damage in the brain, which may help prevent or slow down the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. Additionally, studies in animals and humans have shown improvements in memory, learning, and cognitive performance after spirulina intake. These effects may be attributed to its antioxidant and protective actions.14

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume spirulina and should avoid:
People with a medical condition called phenylketonuria (PKU) should not consume spirulina as it is a rich source of phenylalanine.15

Spirulina can be added to smoothies, juices, or water. You can also buy spirulina capsules.

9: Turkey

Why we may recommend this:
Turkey is a source of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan helps with the regulation of serotonin production in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known as the “feel good” chemical, which aids in better focus and feelings of happiness.16

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume turkey and should avoid:
Turkey contains relatively high amounts of tyrosine and tryptophan, which are amino acids that, for some individuals, can be used by microbes in the gut to produce uremic toxins. Uremic toxins are associated with unwanted metabolic and cardiovascular effects.17

Turkey can be grilled, baked, or roasted. You can also make turkey burgers or turkey chili.

10: Cocoa/Dark Chocolate

Why we may recommend this:
Dark chocolate, with a high cocoa content, is rich in antioxidants and contains natural stimulants like caffeine and flavonoids, which can enhance focus, mood, and memory. Cocoa also inhibits an enzyme that metabolizes cortisol, helping to lower cortisol levels.18

A common reason why someone might not be a fit to consume cocoa/dark chocolate and should avoid:
Cocoa is known to stimulate the body’s release of histamine and slow the body’s clearance of histamines. If you suffer from histamine intolerance, you may consider minimizing your intake of cocoa or chocolate.19 

Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content is a delicious and healthy treat. You can eat dark chocolate on its own or add it to desserts.

In addition to consuming more of these specific foods (unless you are advised to avoid or minimize them), a few general dietary guidelines can help improve brain health. These include:

  • Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

  • Limiting processed foods, sugary drinks, and unhealthy fats

  • Getting regular physical activity

  • Getting enough sleep

By following these dietary guidelines and incorporating brain-healthy foods into your diet, you can help improve your cognitive function and protect your brain health for years to come.


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