Brain Food Pyramid

5 Key Cognitive Performance Enhancing Foods

I have to admit something to you, yesterday I ate a package of cookies, it was my day off, I was just relaxing and I thought, you know I deserve a cheat day, why not? They were good going down, but then something strange happened. In the next hour or two after eating the cookies I was struck by how unhappy I became. Even though I was sitting on my comfortable couch in my comfortable apartment, in the center of a fun city. Even though, I’d had a kickass week doing the work that I love. Even though I was just a few clicks away from a massive digital library of television and movies along with books I’ve bought on subjects that interest me or social networks full of people who would be eager to meet me. Even though, I had a smart phone in my hand full contacts of people who I like spend time with, I just could not find even a modicum of relaxed satisfaction between my neurotic clicking, swiping and browser tab juggling.

In recent memory, it really was one of the most unhappy states I’ve found myself in.

This brings me to an important point, food has a subtle yet profound effect on our mood. Checkout this article, by Ben of — Jonathan Roseland

here’s no doubt that diet is one of the most important modifiable risk factors for dementia. In addition to having a neuroprotective effects, regular consumption of certain foods confers a clear cognitive edge (Cha-ching! -JR). I always enjoy getting a new computer with excess RAM, no lag, and no bloatware. To make a bad analogy: these brain foods will upgrade your brain so that it’s just as snappy as a new computer.

Just like sleep flushes the brain of toxins, some foods seem to reverse brain aging. Colorful foods, like blueberries, are particularly antioxidant rich.

A Surprising Connection Between Food Color and Nootropic Effects

Theres an interesting connection between how colorful a food is and its antioxidant and nootropic effects.
Many colorful compounds (beta carotene, for example) are conjugated systems, with alternating single and double bonds. Note the alternating double and single bonds in the structure of beta-carotene, shown below.

Conjugated systems form the basis of chromophores, which are light-absorbing parts of a molecule that can cause a compound to be colored. Conjugated systems also make good antioxidants because they can better stabilite lone pairs of electrons, allowing them to soak up free radicals. (A free radical is just an electron lone pair).

Free radical scavengers protect the brain from oxidative stress and allow it to work more efficiently. As a nootropic user, you’ll want to load up on antioxidants, to help fortify the brain against excitotoxicity.

Methylene blue is an up-and-coming nootropic that is also a conjugated system (like beta-carotene) with significant free radical scavenging capabilities. Methylene blue has excellent blood brain barrier-permeability, like many nootropic foods, which allows it to enter mitochondria. Once in mitochondria, methylene blue buffers electron flow by accepting and donating electrons. The effect is increased energy production in neurons and an overall improvement in neural efficiency.

The Best 5 Cognitive Enhancing Foods

Search online and you’ll find many articles touting the benefits of foods like salmon or avocado on brain health.

But sometimes, a laundry list of foods can be overwhelming. That’s why I want to share with you a consolidated list of 5 foods with proven cognitive benefits. These are the heavy hitters with the most clinical evidence supporting a brain-fortifying effect.

Brain aging is a drawn out process that begins well before you notice any symptoms. On the bright side, this means that there’s ample time for an overhauled diet to keep you sharp and stave off brain aging.

Cognitive Reserve

There’s this interesting theory in neuroscience called cognitive reserve. It’s the notion that when you’re young, you have excess brain capacity. This capacity can then be deployed later, if your brain is harmed by aging or injury. It’s your bodies way of giving you buffer room in case you get a concussion, and need to have the cognitive resources to recover.
Another implication is that brain-healthy foods might help maintain this reserve brain capacity, so that it can be used later when you need it. Think of it as “backup” brain power.
Whether you’re trying to dispel brain fog or keep brain aging at bay, these are the five best brain foods:

1. Cacao

Cacao confers clear cognitive benefits. I’m not talking about sugar-laden milk chocolate! If you’re serious about your brain, I recommend consuming actual raw cacao. One of my all-time favorite snacks is cacao nibs. You can also add raw cacao powder to smoothies, hot chocolate, or even your coffee. I tend to prefer cacao nibs over cacao powder because it’s very difficult to swallow cacao powder. It’s very hydrophobic and will stick to the roof of your mouth.

What’s so special about cacao? As you age, blood vessels narrow and harden, hindering blood flow and increasing blood pressure. Cacao keeps this process at bay. It contains flavonoids that increase blood flow to the brain and lower blood pressure. Cacao even encourages the formation of new blood vessels (called “angiogenesis”). Remarkably, a study in older adults reported that cacao consumption reverses age-related memory decline. It’s always refreshing to read about studies conducted in actual humans, given misleading it can be trying to extrapolate from animal and in vitro models

2. Blueberries

It’s no coincidence that colorful, vibrant foods tend to be more antioxidant-rich.

Blueberries contain a blend of flavonoids with potent antioxidant effects in the brain. They’re also enriched in pterostilbene, which is an improved version of its sister molecule, resveratrol. That’s because pterostilbene is more bioavailable than resveratrol and more potent.
Blueberry supplementation was recently reported to tumeric tea in older adults at risk for dementia.

Some tips to get the most out of a blueberry-enriched diet:

  • If you’re on a budget, consider getting frozen blueberries. Freezing blueberries doesn’t really affect the nutritional content, and is considerably cheaper.
  • To realize benefits, I recommend eating at least a fistfull of blueberries everyday (Yes! When I lived in Kiev everyday I would buy a big beautiful cup of blueberries from a little babushka selling them on the street -JR).
  • Here’s my favorite blueberry smoothie recipe: 1 cup blueberries, 8 ounce plain yogurt, ¾ cup reduced fat milk, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, and ⅛ ground nutmeg.
  • If you’re on a budget, you might look into Bluebrainboost’s blueberry powder extract which contains 25% flavonoids (Full disclosure: I’m affiliated with this vendor)

3. Tumeric

Tumeric is a hot topic in neurodegenerative research right now. Who knew that a common spice could have such amazing health benefits? If you’re wondering how to incorporate tumeric into your diet, one of the tastiest ways is with tumeric tea (believe it or not).

One problem with tumeric is that it has poor oral bioavailability. It’s modified and cleared by the body too readily. This means that it doesn’t stick around long enough to have a large effect. But taking tumeric with piperine, found in black pepper, prevents tumeric from being cleared too quickly (So should I have equal amounts of tumeric and black pepper? -JR).

Some researchers think that tumeric is one reason for the lower incidence of dementia in India. Indians regularly consume tumeric-rich curries, which may protect their brains from premature aging.

Some tips:

  • The best dietary source of tumeric is from curries. That’s because curries usually contain both oil and pepper. Oil can form a liposome around curcumin (because it’s hydrophobic), enhancing its delivery in the body. Pepper also increases circulating curcumin.
  • Be cautious, because turmeric interacts with blood-thinning medications (like warfarin) and drugs that reduce stomach acid (like omeprazole).

4. Flax Seeds (alpha-linolenic acid)

I’m a firm believer that flax seeds do not get enough attention as a brain food. (For some reason, flax seeds just don’t sound very appetizing to me… What do you eat them with? Good for snacking? -JR)

Flax seeds are naturally abundant in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). There’s evidence that ALA increases neurogenesis. Neurogenesis refers to the birth of new brain cells. For most of the 20th century, it was thought that an adult human’s brain is static: that it has all the brain cells it will ever have. But then it was discovered that new brain cells are continually created well into adulthood. ALA in flax seeds seems to stimulate this process.

Flax seeds also contain DHA and EPA, which are primary structural components of the brain. It’s especially important for children to get enough DHA and EPA to help with brain development.

Other flax seed benefits include improved digestive health and lower cholesterol.

5. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. It’s not all hype: coconut oil has tangible brain-boosting effects.

Coconut oil is comprised of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). Normally, the brain uses the sugar glucose as a fuel source. But as it turns out, the brain can also use MCT (but only after they’re broken down into ketone bodies).

Why does this matter? It means that coconut oil provides the brain with additional fuel. Also, aging may impair the brain’s ability to efficiently use sugar. Supplementing with coconut oil can make up for impaired sugar utilization in the brain. Coconut oil isn’t just useful for the brain: it also has 76 other uses and health benefits.(I religiously eat a whole coconut everyday, does this mean I’m already getting sufficient coconut oil? Or would I benefit from from supplementing MCT? -JR)


Just as the five foods we discussed nurture the brain, others are toxic. Stay away from swordfish and shark which contain methylmercury, and eat salmon instead. It’s also best to limit dietary carbo that’s cooked at extremely high temperatures. I’m talking about french fries and potato chips, which contain small amounts of the neurotoxin acrylamide. Lastly, moderate alcohol consumption may be good for your heart, but drinking to excess depletes your body of vitamin B1 and harms the brain. (Check out my podcast on Biohacking Boozing -JR)

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Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸