Brain Foods for the Way We Eat Today

Salmon and blueberries are the loud-mouth kids in the brain-food playground. All the glory while leaving the quieter brain foods to fend for themselves. That’s not to denigrate salmon and blueberries, they are the pioneers in the cognitive-nutrition world, but there are other foods that rival and even surpass their brain enhancing effects.

As the brain is 80% fat, foods that are rich in omega 3 fats and/or antioxidants continue to be the cornerstone of cognitive nutrition. However, as nutritional science has progressed so too has our understanding of food and how it impacts the brain.  Below are the best brain foods for how we eat today.

Black Cod/Sable Fish

Black Cod/sable fish is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA makes up 30% of the fatty constituents of the brain which keeps the brain cell membranes soft and fluid. This improves communication within the brain cells and enhances learning and memory. 4oz of black cod contains 1800mg of omega 3 fats, one third more than wild salmon. And thanks to Nobu’s signature black miso cod dish, black cod is on almost every mid-priced Japanese restaurant.

How to Eat – drizzled in a miso sauce and served over baby bok choy; added to a brown rice kedgeree; smoked and served on baby pumperknickel bread. Available at the Lobster Place and

Chia seed

Chia seed contains the highest vegetarian source of omega 3 fats, alpha linoleic acid (ALA). While chia seed does not contain DHA, its omega 3 fat will convert to DHA with the help of magnesium and Vitamin C. Three tablespoons of chia seed will create 1200mg of DHA and EPA, making its cognitive-nutrition capacity consistent with wild salmon and far exceeding farmed salmon.

How to Eat – chia seed soaked in almond milk and topped with berries (rich in magnesium and vitamin C); soaked and blended with cashew nut milk and blueberries to create a vegan blueberry mousse; green smoothie made with frozen banana, chia seed, kale and almond milk; Chia Goodness cereal with apple and almonds. Available at Wholefoods and healthfood stores.

Broccoli sprouts

Broccoli sprouts contain the powerful phytonutrient, sulforaphane. Sulforaphane activates and amplifies the body’s most abundant antioxidant, glutathione. Glutathione protects the brain from free radical damage and preserves the integrity of the synaptic membranes which are central to learning and memory. Half a cup of broccoli sprouts have more sulforaphane than 1.25 pounds of broccoli.

How to Eat – toss into a salad; add to a nori wrap filled with avocado, mixed leaves, tomatoes and wild salmon; serve on top of toasted spelt bread with cottage cheese and tomatoes. Available at Wholefoods and healthfood stores.


Turmeric is the yellow pigment in curry which contains the polyphenol, curcumin. Curcumin turns on a brain protective pathway, Nrf2, which upregulates detoxification, increases glutathione levels and reduces inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to many neurodegenerative conditions and more mild cognitive conditions such as lowered mental acuity and slow information processing speed. Turmeric may even inhibit the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by removing amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain. Interestingly, India has the lowest level of Alzheimer’s disease in the world.

How to Eat – in a curry with chickpeas and tofu; cauliflower tossed in turmeric and dipped in yogurt; added to a green smoothie; dusted over hard-boiled eggs; as curried eggs.

Raw Cacao Nibs

Cacao beans have more antioxidants flavonoids than blueberries, green tea and red wine. They are an excellent source of phytonutrients which turn off damaging inflammation transcription factors such as NF-kB and turn on protective pathways such as Nrf2. This helps to improve memory, increase information-processing speed and improve verbal fluency. Cacao beans have also been associated with improvements in mood as they enhance opioid-receptors in the brain. Stick to the raw cacao nibs versus chocolate. You lose many of the health benefits when you eat commercially produced chocolate (even 70%).

How to Eat: raw cacao and goji berry balls; raw cacao and coconut balls; trail mix with dehydrated fruit; cacao pudding with coconut butter; tossed in vanilla powder and lucuma.

If these foods aren’t familiar to you, get out there and experiment.  People may be getting smarter than you…

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