Foods, or the compounds and nutrients inside of foods, can lead to better brain health. Nootropic supplements contain numerous compounds that protect and enhance the brain. A lack of the appropriate compounds in a person’s diet can lead to higher risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Nootropic foods can be added to a diet today for an improvement in mental health.
What are Nootropic Foods?
Nootropics are brain boosters, normally in the form of drugs or supplements, that improve cognition and memory. When certain foods are consumed, the compounds interact with the brain to improve memory, protect against cognitive decline, cell damage and aging, among many other benefits.
Consuming the right level of certain foods can have short- and long-term impacts on brain health.
Nootropic Foods and Their Compounds
Certain foods have strong nootropic properties and can boost brain health, including:
Broccoli sprouts, which are different from broccoli, are known for their earthy taste and significant health benefits. Studies show that these sprouts can protect against:
- Bladder cancer
- Sun damage
- Breast cancer
Eating broccoli sprouts also improves brain and mental health. When consumed, these sprouts activate the body’s NRF2 pathways, which are responsible for regulating inflammation in the body. These pathways, when they’re opened, also produce endogenous antioxidants that help to alleviate oxidative stress and stop free radicals.
Sulforaphane, found in many leafy greens, is responsible for the absorption of NRF2. Eating broccoli sprouts raw is the key to enhancing the release of sulforaphane by as much as 10 to 100 times traditional broccoli (1).
As an anti-inflammatory, Sulforaphane helps stave off the negative effects of inflammation on the brain, which includes:
- Working memory
- Executive function
Additional studies indicate that sulforaphane show that the compound improves spatial working memory, reduces oxidative stress following brain injury, and protects against cellular threats (2).
Cognitive function is improved, too. Broccoli sprouts can be added into a daily diet to improve spatial learning and memory while reducing the risk of cellular damage.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
A Mediterranean diet is known as one of the healthiest diets in the world. The diet consists of a lot of fish, vegetables, legumes and one key addition: extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). When added into salads and foods, olive oil can be beneficial for brain health.
It’s important to not fry foods in this oil, as it can negate the health benefits of olive oil. When eaten on its own, EVOO offers numerous benefits:
- 30 types of phenolic compounds, or powerful antioxidants that fight against free radicals (3)
- Reduction in heart disease risks by 9%
- Protection against stroke
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Protection against certain forms of cancer
In terms of being a nootropic, olive oil’s phenolic compounds are the brain protectors in olive oil. Studies have been conducted on humans and mice to determine the impact EVOO has on the brain. One study found that 6.5 years after consuming a diet high on EVOO, participants had lower cognitive loss, including less loss of memory and brain function (4).
Early studies suggest that a diet high in EVOO may inhibit compounds linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies on mice found that when consumed in participants that had neurodegeneration and accelerated aging, EVOO was able to rectify learning deficits, enhance memory and help lower oxidative stress. The primary reason for these improvements is the increase in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant.
Turmeric is easy to incorporate into any dish and adds an earthy flavor to foods. The ingredient can be added raw, as a spice or consumed in tea. Studies on the ingredient show that it can have a major impact on a person’s health and well-being. Turmeric has numerous benefits that include:
- Powerful anti-inflammatory effects
- Increases the antioxidant capacity in the body
- Lowers the risk of heart disease
- Reduces the risks of certain cancers
Curcuminoids, or the compounds found in this spice, are the main reason for this ingredient’s health benefits. The compound helps boost the neurotrophic factor in the brain and improves brain function while also reducing the risk of brain disease.
Brain disorders are linked to lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a growth hormone found in the brain. Many disorders are linked to lower levels of BDNF, including Alzheimer’s disease and age-related decline (5).
Turmeric can increase BDNF in the brain, leading to a reversing or delaying of brain disease and decrease in brain function (6).
Early studies also show that this food can lead to improved memory, although more studies are needed to confirm this.
Red wine, when consumed in moderate amounts, can be very beneficial for brain health. The main compound in red wine that is responsible for brain enhancement is resveratrol. Known as a powerful antioxidant, resveratrol is potent and has the ability to improve:
- Cerebral circulation
Resveratrol is naturally occurring and is a common focus of debate in the nootropic industry. The compound is considered an Ampakine nootropic, which has neuroprotective benefits for the brain (7).
The compound is known to boost dopamine, reverse cognitive decline, fight against cell aging and for helping control brain inflammation.
Red wine improves the enzyme heme oxygenase production in the brain, aiding in oxidative stress protection. Improvements in BDNF reduce the risk of brain-related disease while also improving mood, protectivity and memory.
Cerebral circulation in the brain is improved, allowing for higher levels of nutrients to reach the brain along with higher levels of oxygen in the brain. Higher oxygen levels allow for greater nutrient flow to optimize cognition and provide the brain with the fuel it needs to enhance cognition.
Nootropic foods can be added into a daily diet to improve brain and memory. The benefits of many of the compounds in the foods listed require large quantities to recreate many of the studies cited. Supplementation can help provide a larger boost of nootropic benefits without requiring large consumption amounts.
When combined into a healthy diet, these foods offer brain boosting effects, protection and lower risks of brain decline.
- Fahey, J. W., Zhang, Y., & Talalay, P. (1997). Broccoli sprouts: an exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 94(19), 10367–10372. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.94.19.10367
- Dash, P. K., Zhao, J., Orsi, S. A., Zhang, M., & Moore, A. N. (2009). Sulforaphane improves cognitive function administered following traumatic brain injury. Neuroscience letters, 460(2), 103–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2009.04.028
- Rafehi, H., Ververis, K., & Karagiannis, T. C. (2012). Mechanisms of action of phenolic compounds in olive. Journal of dietary supplements, 9(2), 96–109. https://doi.org/10.3109/19390211.2012.682644
- Martínez-Lapiscina, E. H., Clavero, P., Toledo, E., San Julián, B., Sanchez-Tainta, A., Corella, D., Lamuela-Raventós, R. M., Martínez, J. A., & Martínez-Gonzalez, M. Á. (2013). Virgin olive oil supplementation and long-term cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomized, trial. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 17(6), 544–552. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-013-0027-6
- Alterations of serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in depressed patients with or without antidepressants. (2003, July 1). ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006322303001811
- Dong, S., Zeng, Q., Mitchell, E. S., Xiu, J., Duan, Y., Li, C., Tiwari, J. K., Hu, Y., Cao, X., & Zhao, Z. (2012). Curcumin enhances neurogenesis and cognition in aged rats: implications for transcriptional interactions related to growth and synaptic plasticity. PloS one, 7(2), e31211. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031211
- Neuroprotective action of resveratrol. (2015, June 1). ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925443914002920