Foods That Fuel Your Brain

Foods That Fuel Your Brain

When most of us think about the effects of our eating habits, we consider how certain foods help us slim down, or bulk up, make us hungry for more, or leave us satisfied. But have you ever thought about foods that fuel your brain?

Certain foods are proven to fuel your brain, and if you’re not already eating them, you should start today. 

The brain is a blood-, glucose-, and oxygen-hungry organ. It requires 15% of our total cardiac output, 20% of our total oxygen consumption, and 25% of our total glucose use. The circulatory system is essential to maintaining good brain function. Factors that improve blood supply help the brain; conversely, factors that impair blood flow hurt the brain.

The brain is also a fatty organ, and, as a result, it’s also susceptible to the ravages of oxidative stress and inflammation. Food, sleep, and stress all play a role in helping or hurting the reduction of oxidative stress and inflammation. Good health is also key for effective leadership.

So what can you start doing to improve how well your brain is able to function?

To Fuel Your Brain: Eat More Unprocessed Foods & Plant Foods

Why? All plants, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and spices make a vast array of chemical compounds that serve to enhance a plant’s ability to survive. When we consume them, these compounds aid in combating oxidative stress and inflammation.

Some of the plant foods studied most for their positive effect on brain health include:

  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Blackberries
  • Walnuts
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Green tea
  • Turmeric
  • Saffron

All of these have been shown to have beneficial effects, such as improving working memory, staving off or reversing cognitive decline, increasing neurogenesis, and boosting your brain’s health and ability to manage complex learning tasks.

Plants are also rich in antioxidants, which help to delay or prevent certain types of damage to cells. Studies have shown that antioxidants may help to counteract free radicals and delay and reverse some of the symptoms of aging, such as memory loss.

Some of the most antioxidant-rich foods are:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Berries
  • Spices & herbs
  • Beans

Fiber has also been shown to be helpful for brain function by helping to regulate blood glucose levels. One study found the presence of fiber in the diet is associated with higher alertness ratings and less perceived stress.

Foods high in fiber include:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Cooked whole grains
  • Fruits and vegetables, such as apples, berries, broccoli, and kale

To Fuel Your Brain: Eat Fewer Processed Foods & Animal Products

The closer we can get to eating foods in their natural form, the better. Many health foods today are marketed as “healthy,” but can actually be highly processed and not ideal for us to consume.

Try to shop on the perimeters of the grocery store, where most of the unprocessed foods are kept. The inner aisles should be shopped more sparingly, and when buying packaged foods, be sure to take a look at the ingredient list. See how many ingredients there are and how many you can pronounce, and decide from there.

It’s a good rule of thumb to fill your plate with as many fruits and vegetables as possible. These foods are nutrient-dense, fill you up, and will fuel your body to perform at its best.

Fresh fruits and veggies are great, but don’t be afraid of frozen produce! Frozen produce is often harvested and frozen at the peak of ripeness, so nutrients are maintained. They’re convenient to keep on hand — especially when you’re stuck at home — and can provide the base for quick and healthy meals.

When you eat well, you feel better, and that can have a tremendous ripple effect into other areas of your life — including work and relationships. As you begin to replace processed, less healthy foods with wholesome, nutrient-dense choices, you’ll be amazed at how your mental clarity and overall outlook will improve.

As a next step, consider these questions:

  • Why is brain health important to me?
  • What can I eat in the next 24 hours that will fuel my brain?
  • What routines do I need to create to be successful?

Start improving your brain function today by shifting your diet to be more plant forward, and you’ll soon find yourself performing at peak performance. Show up as your best self during these challenging times. Fuel your brain and your body with nourishing foods.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Get our recipes to fuel your brain with healthful foods. Access our complimentary collection of recipes from the exercise physiologist who works closely with senior executives in the “Fit to Lead” portion of our Leadership at the Peak development program for C-suite leaders.

Fit to Lead Recipes: To maintain optimal health and perform to your maximum potential. Links to a PDF file.

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April 3, 2021
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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