Skip the coffee; you can feed your brain with food containing valuable nutrients to improve your focus. Here's what to eat in a diet for a sharp mind.
When you need to concentrate, it’s easy to pour another cup of coffee. But you can improve your focus through food containing valuable nutrients, says Drew Ramsey, MD, a psychiatrist, farmer, and coauthor of “The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body.” Ramsey has also written “Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety: Nourish Your Way to Better Mental Health in Six Weeks.”
“The smallest choices each day can make a real difference in improving mental and emotional well-being, stabilizing your moods, and improving your focus,” Ramsey says. “It begins with avoiding the processed and fried foods that are primary players in the Modern American Diet and stocking up on foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and other vitamins and nutrients.”
To assess the impact of your own diet on your brain health, try his quiz.
Here are the foods he suggests eating every day. You might start with eating one from each of these categories:
- Oysters, wild salmon, mackerel, mussels, anchovies, sardines, herring, rainbow trout, wild shrimp, cod, clams, fish eggs, crab, and octopus. Top nutrients include omega-3s (DHA+EPA), vitamin B12, zinc, protein, iodine, and vitamin B1.
- Lentils, quinoa, black beans, red beans, wheat germ, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, hummus, steel-cut oats, brown rice, black-eyed peas, peanuts, edamame, millet, and barley. Top nutrients include iron, folate, fiber, magnesium, phytonutrients, and protein.
- Apples, blueberries, raspberries, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, cherries, watermelon, avocados, pears, lemons, strawberries, mango, cocao nibs, kiwi, cantaloupe, limes, apricots, and peaches. Top nutrients include vitamin C, fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin A.
- Kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, onions, blue potatoes, carrots, celery, mustard greens, mesculun, beets with greens, cabbage, broccoli, sprouts, butternut squash, and bell peppers. Top nutrients include vitamin C, fiber, folate, calcium, phytonutrients, and vitamin A.
- Walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts. Top nutrients include vitamins B1 and E, iron, magnesium, zinc, and protein.
- Yogurt, milk, and cheeses produced from grass-fed cows; farm fresh eggs, goat cheese, blue cheese, kefir, and feta cheese. Top nutrients include vitamins B2, B12, and D; calcium, zinc, and protein.
- Turmeric, garlic, black pepper, sea salt, cinnamon, cocoa, ginger, chili pepper, oregano, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, and basil. Top nutrients include vitamins A, C, and K; and calcium and iron.
- Water, mineral water, green tea, herbal tea (mint, holy basil, rooibos, and chai), hot cocoa, vegetable juices, and flavored seltzer. Top nutrients include vitamin A and C, calcium, and phytonutrients.
- Dark chocolate, nut tortes, macaroons, Greek yogurt with maple syrup and fruit, whole grain cookies (oats), and dried fruit. Top nutrients include vitamins B2 and B12, calcium, fiber, phytonutrients, and zinc.
Ramsey recommends eggs and beef, suggesting eating products from pasture-fed chickens and cows.
Eggs are a great source of choline, a precursor to the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is essential for learning. If you’re worried about cholesterol, ask your doctor how many eggs are safe to eat. Cholesterol in your diet does not have a big effect on blood cholesterol levels. Ramsey recommends up to 12 eggs a week, or two eggs every morning, six days a week (skipping the seventh day). Besides choline, eggs are rich in vitamins B9 (also known as folate), B6, and B12. Three large eggs will give you half of your daily B12 requirement.
Even a mild vitamin d deficiency can blur your concentration. If you’d rather stay away from eggs, seafood like mussels and clams both provide B12, and oysters and anchovies are also rich in helpful nutrients, Ramsey says.
Grass-fed beef is expensive, but you don’t need big quantities. Eat it once or twice a week in stews with vegetables, rather than as the main event in a meal. Beef is a source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which counters the effects of stress hormones. You’ll get twice to three times the CLA from an animal that grazed rather than dined on grain. Vegetarians can get CLA from black beans.
Eggs and beef are staples in American diets, but few of us eat as much cruciferous vegetables as Ramsey recommends: two cups a day will keep your mind sharp. These vegetables include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Purple cabbage
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
Ramsey is a big fan of kale: At just 33 calories, a cup of raw kale will give you a big dose of vitamin C (134 percent of the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA) and vitamin A (206 percent RDA), protein, iron, folate, and vitamin B6 — plus tons of vitamin K (684 percent RDA), which Ramsey describes as a “key cofactor” in the fats that structure brain cells.
Add turmeric and black pepper to your food for boost your brain power. As Hippocrates said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”
February 28, 2022
Janet O’Dell, RN