Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Food & Recipes

Font Size

Healthy Foods to Eat for Brain Power

These natural brain foods can boost concentration and performance.
By Susan Seliger
WebMD Feature

You have a big presentation to give in 15 minutes. But suddenly, you're so tired and unfocused you have a hard time remembering your name, much less your entire speech. Barring illegal substances, there's got to be something to give you a jolt of brain power, but what? Coffee? Sugar? Salmon? (Don't laugh, we'll get to that.) In fact, there are a number of healthy foods to eat for brain power. Some may help in the short term; others, you should include in your diet for long-term aid in boosting alertness, concentration, and performance.

Of course, the best approach is to maintain a healthy diet overall.

"If you're eating poorly and think you'll have a snack and go in and take a test and do well, you're fooling yourself," says Elizabeth Somer, author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman's Diet. "But if you've been feeding your brain [the natural brain foods] it needs for weeks and months, then that light snack and a cup of coffee before you go in to take an exam will be great."

3 Natural Brain Foods for Short-Term Boosts

1. Caffeine, with a Caveat

"Coffee is good in the short term," says Somer. "One or two cups can improve alertness and brain power temporarily.

"But if you keep going back for cup and after cup, you'll be too rattled to think clearly. If you're fueling your day with caffeine, it exacerbates the problems and adds to fatigue. You can go through caffeine withdrawal. It's definitely a double-edged sword."

Try one or two cups of green tea instead of coffee, suggests Ann Kulze, MD, author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet, A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss & Lifelong Vitality.

"It can boost concentration, help you focus, and also provide antioxidants," she says.

2. Quality Carbs for Concentration

"Eating a small carb snack before a test - a whole-wheat English muffin with a little peanut butter and a glass of orange juice, will help boost concentration and brainpower, and is better than going in on an empty stomach," Somer says.

"Quality (complex) carbs, not jelly beans or a Snickers bar, can supply the brain with the fuel it needs to operate optimally."

But she warns against too much of a good thing: "If you have a big plate of pasta and some bread at lunch before a meeting, you're going to want to take a siesta."

3. Glucose for Memory

Everyone has heard of the "sugar high." But is it real, and is it a good thing?

A small study of older adults examined this issue: they were given a sweet drink or other carbs - and those participants fared better on memory tests than others who were given a placebo.

Somer says you'll get more bang for your buck with whole grains (that is, healthy complex carbs) rather than a quick hit of sugar.

"You'll get the glucose level you need without the spikes," she says

Today on WebMD

Four spoons with mustards
What condiments are made of and how much to use.
salmon and spinach
How to get what you need.
 
grilled veggies
Easy ideas for dinner tonight.
Greek Salad
Health benefits, what you can eat and more.
 

WebMD Recipe Finder

Browse our collection of healthy, delicious recipes, from WebMD and Eating Well magazine.



bread
Recipes
soup
Recipes
 
roasted chicken
Recipes
Flaxseed added fiber
Video
 
vegetarian sandwich
Recipes
fresh vegetables
Recipes
 
smoothie
fitArticle
Foods To Boost Mens Heath Slideshow
Slideshow