The Real Life Diet of a Harvard and MIT Scientist Who Says the Right Diet Can Make You Smarter

Additionally, Omega-6 fatty acids, which are present in nuts and seeds and are essential for brain development and health, must be consumed in balance with Omega-3s to support overall well-being. Excessive consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids relative to Omega-3s has been associated with inflammation and various health issues, so balance is important.

Omega-9 fatty acids—which you can find in olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds—though not essential, can contribute to cognitive function and cardiovascular health when included in a diet rich in diverse fatty acids.

What other foods top the list of being “the best” for brain health?

Foods loaded with antioxidants, including berries and leafy green vegetables, safeguard the brain against oxidative stress, thereby improving brain efficiency and promoting healthy aging. Additionally, whole grains and vitamin E-rich foods, such as nuts and seeds, are important for vascular health, which is essential for optimal brain function.

Are there specific foods that can help people improve specific brain functions, like concentration and memory?

Certain foods have a significant effect on memory and concentration, primarily due to their rich nutrient profiles. Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins found in foods like fatty fish, berries, and leafy greens aid in boosting brain function, enhancing memory, and staving off cognitive deterioration.

I’m afraid to ask… but what’s the deal with coffee?

Foods that enhance focus, such as those with caffeine and L-theanine—which are present in coffee and green tea—enhance alertness and attention by influencing neurotransmitter dynamics. I usually only drink coffee once or twice a week.

This is terrible, but not unexpected, news. What’s the alternative?

Opting for green tea as an alternative to coffee is generally a good idea. Green tea is rich in caffeine, known to boost alertness and concentration, and also contains L-theanine, which supports a state of calm alertness, possibly enhancing focus while reducing feelings of anxiety.

What else do you avoid in your diet?

I minimize sugar intake—although I do enjoy a piece of chocolate a couple of times a week—and I only eat red meat once or twice a year.

Do…I need to do that too?

To support brain health, it’s advisable to limit intake of processed and high-sugar foods (like sugary beverages, candy, cupcakes—all things we stuff ourselves with as children and habituate as comfort foods!), as they can impair cognitive function and memory. Consumption of alcohol and red meats has also been linked to negative impacts on brain health. Foods high in saturated and trans fats should also be minimized, as they can lead to decreased brain health over time.

Does when you eat make a difference in all of this?

There’s a profound link between your dietary habits and your brain’s health. The science is really just in its infancy for this—and there appears to be a “no one-case fits all”—so people need to experiment to find what works best for them. Having said this, patterns are emerging. Consuming meals at regular, consistent times helps regulate the body’s internal clock, stabilizing blood sugar levels and ensuring a steady supply of energy to the brain, which is crucial for maintaining cognitive functions and focus.

So, where does intermittent fasting come into play?

Intermittent fasting, which involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting, has been shown to benefit brain health. This practice may enhance brain function by reducing oxidative stress, improving brain cell growth, and decreasing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. However, the optimal intervals for eating can vary depending on individual health conditions, lifestyle, and dietary needs. Generally, fasting for 14 or more hours a day is recommended (so, for example, finish dinner by 6 p.m. and have breakfast at 8 a.m.), but it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best eating schedule for your specific health goals and needs.

Any other secrets we need to know about how to hack our diets to get smarter?

I’ve been experimenting with adaptogens—which are natural substances that typically come from an herb, root, or mushroom. I’ve been exploring lion’s mane, chaga, reishi, and maca for their potential benefits for enhancing resilience to stress and supporting overall well-being. Incorporating these adaptogens into my routine has been part of my journey to optimize mental clarity, energy levels, and overall health.

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