7 Foods That Make You Smarter

Sunday, February 27, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Suzy Buglewicz

If the rapidly approaching school year has you scrambling for tips on how to move your kids to the head of the class, or if you're looking for ways to increase your own productivity, start by examining your diet. Studies have shown that certain foods act like fuel for our brains by increasing concentration and memory function. Some foods have even been shown to slow down the mind's natural aging process. The next time you really need to stay alert or pay attention, try to eat more of these seven foods that have been shown to increase brain function and the ability to focus. Combine this practice with other good habits, like working out to your favorite Beachbody® DVD (mine Chalene Johnson's Turbo Jam®), and you'll soon find yourself at the head of the class—at any age.

Spinach. At only 40 calories a cup, a serving of spinach contains almost half your daily requirement of folic acid, an essential nutrient for cell growth, blood production, and preventing memory loss. And spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available—just 1 cup contains all your body's daily requirements of vitamins A and K, plus most of the folate and manganese you need each day. These nutrients improve brain function and slow down the effects of premature aging by preventing the negative effects of oxidation on the brain. Spinach is also rich in iron and lutein, which promotes healthy eyesight.

Smart Tip: Try replacing iceberg lettuce with spinach leaves in your next dinner salad, or add fresh spinach to an omelet.

Oatmeal. As a strong source of insoluble fiber, oatmeal provides a stable energy that helps your brain maintain consistent focus and concentration. Eating oatmeal can also slow down the digestion of starch, reducing the frequent spikes in blood sugar that usually occur after a big meal. The iron, magnesium, and zinc in oatmeal encourage cell growth and can increase metabolism and regulate blood sugar. To get the maximum nutritional benefits, avoid the instant flavored packets, which are loaded with sugar, and stick with the plain, slower-cooking kind—it still cooks up in the microwave in just 2 or 3 minutes.

Smart Tip: Turn up the flavor naturally by preparing oatmeal with low-fat milk and topping it with fresh blueberries or banana slices.

Fish. Many studies have shown that eating oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids can boost memory, concentration, and mental acuity. Omega-3 acids also appear to strengthen the brain's synapses that are directly related to learning and memorization. And if that's not reason enough to eat more fish, the omega-3 fatty acids also help slow down mental cognitive decline.

Smart Tip: Watch mercury levels when choosing fish, and consider wild salmon, albacore tuna, and mackerel, which all contain omega-3s with minimal environmental contaminants.

Walnuts. Eating just a handful of these nuts every day can prevent the decline of cognitive and motor function, increase brain resiliency, and improve cell functioning. Walnuts are loaded with protein and omega-3 fatty acids that balance the unstable neurotransmitters that can cause depression and other mood swings.

Smart Tip: Sprinkle a handful of chopped walnuts on salads or fill a travel container for a healthy on-the-go snack. You'll feel full longer, reducing the temptation to binge between meals.

Berries. Many types of berries, especially blueberries and strawberries, contain flavonoids, which have been linked to brain cell growth and improved memory. Berries with the darkest, richest colors offer the most nutritional value. Eat the real thing to reap the benefits, and avoid anything that contains "berry flavoring." The antioxidants, vitamin C, and anti-inflammatory properties in berries have been shown to preserve brain function and are a factor in the prevention of dementia.

Smart Tip: Sprinkle berries on salads, cereal, or yogurt, or make yourself a fresh berry fruit smoothie.

Yogurt. Widely known as a top calcium source for bone development and strength, yogurt also contains enough protein and carbohydrates in just one serving to keep both the body and the brain energized throughout the day. Yogurt also contains amino acids that encourage the production of neurotransmitters, and enough vitamin B to encourage—along with the protein—the growth of brain tissue while slowing down the aging process.

Smart Tip: Eat yogurt topped with berries for breakfast or lunch, or if you're having a salad, nix the bottled dressing and make your own by mixing a quarter of a cup of plain nonfat or low-fat yogurt with fresh herbs.

Eggs. These low-calorie, nutrient-dense wonders are rich in protein as well as choline, an important nutrient that helps regulate the brain and nervous system by acting as a messenger between muscles and nerves. If you've been avoiding eggs because you're worried about your cholesterol, take note: Numerous research studies have shown that eating eggs as part of a healthy diet is not a contributing factor to heart disease. The nutrients in eggs also increase memory development and aid in concentration. Another plus? Egg yolks contain lutein, which has been shown to improve eye health.

Smart Tip: Enjoy an egg and spinach omelet for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Brainpower Recipes:

Grilled Tuna with Quinoa
  • 4 6-oz. albacore tuna steaks (1 inch thick)
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
  • Medium saucepan
  • Shallow bowl or casserole dish
Preheat broiler or grill. Put water on to boil in medium saucepan. While water is boiling, place olive oil in shallow bowl or casserole dish. Coat tuna steaks in oil, season with salt and pepper, then cover dish and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. When water is boiling, add quinoa to pan and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed. While quinoa is cooking, grill fish approximately 7 minutes and drizzle with lime juice. Remove quinoa from heat and add orange juice and cilantro; mix well. Serve tuna steaks and quinoa with a fresh spinach salad (see below). Makes 4 servings.

Fresh Spinach Salad
  • 10 oz. raw baby spinach (about 8 cups)
  • 1/4 small onion, minced
  • 1 large carrot, slivered
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut in thin strips
  • 1/3 cup walnut pieces
  • 3 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp. vinegar (balsamic or rice wine)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
  • Large bowl
  • Small bowl
Wash and dry spinach. Combine with other vegetables and walnut pieces in large bowl. Mix oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in small bowl, then drizzle over salad. Toss and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
Without salad: 415 23 g 2 g 19 g 18.5 g 4 g
With salad: 560 28 g 6 g 26 g 35.5 g 5 g

Easy Fruit Smoothie
  • 1/3 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1/3 cup blueberries
  • 1/3 cup sliced bananas
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 6 oz. plain low-fat yogurt
Place all ingredients in blender or food processer and blend for 1 minute. Makes 1 serving.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
264 12 g 4 g 49 g 3 g < 1 g