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It has been said that the human brain is the largest organ in proportion to size of any other animal on the planet.It would seem to be a good idea to make sure it is well fed and has the right kinds of fuel to keep it active and improve concentration!

The main fuel for the brain is glucose.  Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in making up the brain.  Vitamins and minerals help the brain functions at its peak and protect the brain from damage.

So what are the best brain snacks?  What foods can we eat to improve concentration, memory, focus and maybe even be a bit quicker with the answers?

Since glucose is the main brain fuel, you need to have carbohydrates—but, they should be complex carbohydrates as you would find in whole grains such as whole grain pasta and brown rice.  There are two main reasons to go for whole grain/un-processed foods as a source of carbohydrates.  The first is that the complex carbohydrates smooth out the “highs” and “lows” of the sugar release—so you don’t get the sugar highs or the sugar lows.  This helps ensure that your brains doesn’t run on high octane one minute and then on fumes the next.  The other reason to go for the whole grains is that you get more bang for your nutritional buck—food processing removes vital nutrients.  Yes, often manufacturers “fortify” the food with vitamins and minerals, but its not in the same amounts or even the same nutrients.  And, why should you pay more for something that is not as nutritious as you could be getting?

The omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid) are vital components of the brain cell membrane and essential for proper brain function.   These fatty acids are found in fish, fish oils and nuts. Another omega-3 fatty acid that you may not have heard about is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and is found in high concentration in flax seeds.

Other fats and compounds known as phospholipids are also extremely important for brain function and the ability to increase concentration. Choline is one of the types of fats that is very important—choline gets incorporated into cell membranes and helps them stay flexible and fluid. Choline is also one of the precursors for one of the main neurotransmitters, acetylcholine.  Choline was recently reviewed for its potential to help in concentration and memory,   particularly in older adults, and was found to be beneficial.

Various vitamins are also essential for concentration, memory and overall brain function.  The B vitamins are necessary for the synthesis of various neurotransmitters—the chemical substances that act as messengers between brain cells. Other vitamins such as vitamins C, D and E and the beta-carotenes are also turning out to be very important in brain functioning.

The other side of the coin is foods that help protect the brain.  The various biochemical reactions that are constantly going on produce a class of substances called free radicals.  This is a normal part of the function of any living organism.  Problems, however, occur when there are too many free radicals and the brain cannot get rid of them.  This is where anti-oxidants can be very helpful in “clearing” the brain.  Anti-oxidants include some of the vitamins already mentioned—Vitamins C and E. Bio-flavenoids from fruits and vegetables are also potent anti-oxidants.

Sources of fat

Omega-3: Fish and fish oils are some of the best sources of omega-3 fats.  Having fish 2-3 times a week is a good way to get these fats.  Frozen fish is a good second choice if you don’t live near the coast and don’t have a good source of fresh fish. Krill oil is a great source as well.

Another good source of EPA and DHA  are nuts—almonds, walnuts and pecans to name a few.  You can snack on nuts throughout the day.  They are also a good source of protein and complex carbohydrates.

Still another great source of omega-3 fats is flax seed, including the omega-3 ALA.  Many people are a bit at a loss as to how to use flax seed.  One way is to grind it up and sprinkle it over salads or vegetables as a kind of garnish.  Another way is to simply add the seeds to your morning cereal bowl or to toss a handful into your stir-fry just as the stir-fry is about ready.

Sources of choline and other phospholipids

Beef liver is a great source of choline.  OK—its not exactly a snack food, but it IS a good source!
Other good sources of choline and other phospholipids are eggs, cauliflower, navy beans, tofu and, once again, nuts. Soy beans (used to make tofu) have used been as a source of lecithin, a series of phospholipids, in the food industry where the soy lecithin acts as a lubricant and a mixing agent. You can make a mixture of nuts and soy beans and have those as snacks.

Sources of anti-oxidants

Highly colored fruits and vegetables are great sources of Vitamins C, E, beta-carotenes and the flavenoids.  The flavenoids are most highly concentrated in berries. A smoothie made with frozen berries is a great snack, especially on a hot day! Some of the best berries for anti-oxidants are blueberries, strawberries and cranberries.

Sourced of B-vitamins

B-vitamins are found in leafy-green vegetables, whole grains, eggs, dairy products and meats. And .... you guessed it....they are found in nuts as well.

Sourced of needed minerals 

Green leafy vegetables, grapes and raisins, beets, soy beans, figs, asparagus, sunflower and sesame seeds.
Green leafy vegetables, honey, almonds, seafood, pecans.
Green leafy vegetables, celery, whole grains, bananas, beets, egg yolks, walnuts, pineapples, asparagus.
Bananas, mushrooms, nuts, oats, beans, squash.
Spinach, fruits and berries, tomatoes, mushrooms, pecans, rice, Brussels sprouts.

Nuts (especially almonds, brazil nuts, pecans and cashews), legumes,  figs, raisins, brown rice, fruits such as apricots, figs, dates, papaya and avocados.
Brewer’s yeast, clams, whole grains.

Mushrooms, liver, soy beans, sunflower seeds, brewer’s yeast. 

Black strap molasses, soy beans, Brazil nuts, raisins and legumes.
Any seafood, kelp, beets, grapes and mushrooms.

  • Kidd PM ,Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Altern Med Rev - 01-SEP-2007, 12(3): 207-27
  • Fioravanti M, Yanagi M Cytidinediphosphocholine (CDP-choline) forcognitive and behavioural disturbances associated with chronic cerebral disorders in the elderly. Cochrane Database Syst Rev - 01-JAN-2005(2): CD000269