Gut health has been a big topic lately, with probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, kefir, and kombucha overtaking the grocery store. Although fermented foods have a long history and definitely aren’t going anywhere, there’s another food trend that’s gaining traction: nootropics.
It might sound like some type of tropical fruit, but nootropics are actually defined as drugs or supplements that claim to enhance cognition—memory, creativity, focus, executive function, and so on.
As you can probably imagine, the effectiveness of these “smart drugs” is heavily debated, and the American Medical Association issued a statement in 2016 that these prescription stimulants should not be used for non-medical purposes, as they can cause unwanted side effects, health conditions, or possibly substance misuse or abuse.
Luckily, there’s a new approach that’s much less controversial: nootropic foods. While there’s no food that will instantly make you better at algebra, maintaining a healthy diet—such as the Mediterranean diet—may reduce your risk of cognitive decline as you age, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Think of it this way: Brain health is closely linked to heart health. A healthy heart is able to pump oxygen-rich blood easily to organs throughout the body—including the brain. A heart-healthy diet helps prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and stroke—all risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to eating an overall healthy diet, these nootropic foods are especially known for benefiting the brain (and the heart!):
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce your risk of heart disease, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This in turn lowers your risk of stroke and vascular dementia.
Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cabbage are high in fiber and potassium—two nutrients that help manage weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Whole grains are another great source of fiber. By helping to manage blood pressure and cholesterol, it may reduce your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Learn more about fiber’s role in preventing and managing diabetes here.
Berries and cherries are antioxidant-rich fruits. They appear to reduce inflammation in the brain and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline, according to a 2012 study by researchers at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines are another omega-3 powerhouse. Swapping red meat and processed meats for fish and seafood a couple times a week can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and the risk of coronary heart disease, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Here are more healthy protein picks.
In addition to a healthy diet, you can also keep your brain running at optimal levels by exercising regularly, not smoking, not drinking alcohol in excess, and managing stress levels. Learn more lifestyle tips for a healthy brain and heart here.