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12 Foods that Fuel Your Brain


Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 15-Mar-2022

There’s no doubt that eating a healthy diet consisting of a variety of whole foods, with limited processed foods, can help your body feel and function better. In fact, a healthy diet lowers your risk of heart disease, boost your immune system, and improve the functioning of your digestive system. But a healthy diet, and certain foods in particular, can also help to fuel your brain, improving both your cognitive functioning and overall mental health.

However, when it comes to fueling your brain, it’s important to understand about something called dietary polyphenols. Polyphenols are a category of compounds that are naturally found in plant foods and that produce a number of positive effects within the brain. These effects include protecting our neurons from neurotoxins, suppressing neuroinflammation, and promoting memory, learning, focus, and cognitive functions. Polyphenols can be separated into four main categories: flavonoids, phenolic acids, polyphenolic amides, and other polyphenols. Here’s a quick look at each category and their most polyphenol-rich foods which you can add to your diet to help improve your brain health.

Fuel Your Brain with Flavonoids

Flavonoids are the largest group of polyphenols and accounts for around 60% of all polyphenols. They have been shown to protect against neurotoxins and suppress neuroinflammation. Luckily for us, we can use flavonoids to fuel our brain through some very tasty foods!

1. Apples

We’ve all heard that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, that’s because apples are known to increase brain function and focus, and have often been recommended as a pre-exam snack for students to help them perform their best on tests. An apple is also a great way to kick off the day. It can give you all the energetic benefits of a cup of coffee without the detriments of caffeine.

2. Onions

Onions are high in flavonoids, and have actually been shown to reduce memory loss. Unfortunately, however, that these memory-retaining properties can be lost when onions are over-cooked – so keep them raw, or make sure to cook your onions on a low heat. 

3. Dark Chocolate

Flavanols are a form of flavonoids found in cocoa and dark chocolates. Studies show that dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain, which helps keep your memory sharp and improve your reaction time.

4. Red Cabbage

Red cabbage is another type of flavonoid. It’s packed full of anthocyanins, which gives it impressive anti-inflammatory properties. These anti-inflammatory properties help to fight against various neurological conditions that induce neuroinflammation.

Fuel Your Brain with Phenolic Acids

The next class of polyphenols is phenolic acids, which accounts for around 30% of all polyphenols. Phenolic acids provide various brain health benefits including fighting depression, epilepsy, hearing loss, vision disturbances, and Parkinson’s disease. They also help with correcting imbalances following traumatic brain injury. 

5. Whole Grains

Whole grains like oats, barley, and quinoa are rich in phenolic acids. They promote blood flow to the brain and help to keep you sharp and focused. 

6. Coffee and Tea

Studies have shown that coffee and/or tea can decrease the likelihood of experiencing a stroke and, in some cases, the risk of dementia. Coffee also helps lower the risk of post-stroke dementia. 

7. Nuts

Nuts contain phenolic acids, and studies suggest that they protect against depression, mild cognitive disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. Eating nuts can provide these benefits thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Fuel Your Brain with Polyphenolic Amides

Polyphenolic amides are a slightly smaller group of polyphenols. There are a number of foods from this category that help to improve brain health and enhance cognitive function. 

8. Chili Peppers

Good news for those who love spice! Chili peppers contain capsaicin, a form of polyphenolic amide. Eating chili peppers relieves pain from migraines and sinus headaches. So, the next time you have a headache that you can’t seem to shake, try spicing things up with a chili pepper. 

Other Polyphenols

With so many polyphenols in existence, the fourth category is simply “other polyphenols.” While it encompasses a wide range of polyphenols that occur less frequently, it still contains some very tasty options. 

9. Turmeric

Turmeric contains the polyphenol curcumin, which enhances memory, focus, and concentration. It also improves cognition and overall alertness and contentedness in elderly populations.

10. Red Wine

Red wine contains resveratrol, a polyphenol that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Excessive wine consumption increases the risk of dementia. However, light consumption reduces that risk, along with age-related cognitive decline.

11. Flax and Sesame Seeds

Flax and sesame seeds both contain lignans, another type of polyphenol. Ingesting lignans through flax seeds and sesame seeds helps to improve overall cognitive function. Plus, they’re high in fiber and protein. Studies have also proven that a higher dietary intake of lignans can result in better cognitive function, specifically in postmenopausal women.

12. Berries

Berries contain ellagic acid, which has various neuroprotective properties. Ellagic acid found in berries protects us against oxidative and inflammatory damages following brain injury. It also keeps us generally sharp on a day-to-day basis.

Get Creative!

As you can see, there is a very wide range of foods that you can incorporate into your diet to improve your brain health and cognitive functioning. Whether you prefer spicy or sweet, or are following a particular diet, using a little creativity means there’s no shortage of available options.


If you’re looking for guidance on improving the quality of your diet, contact us today and let our team of highly skilled Naturopaths and Nutritionists show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.

Dr. Scott Wilson

Dr. Scott Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of Physiomed; one of Canada’s largest franchised networks of inter-disciplinary healthcare clinics. A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Wilson founded Physiomed in 1994 and has since grown Physiomed to over 30 clinics in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. With hundreds of practitioners from over a dozen disciplines, Dr. Wilson and Physiomed have helped over 100,000 Canadians with physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, orthotic therapy, compression therapy and clinical conditioning as part of a program of rehabilitation and health optimization. In addition to helping patients improve their physical and mental well-being, Dr. Wilson has also mentored hundreds of practitioners to provide better care while enjoying more fulfilling careers. He is also a keynote speaker on many health related topics including how physiotherapy, chiropractic and health & wellness treatment can help with stress, weight loss, and unlocking the true potential within to achieve lasting physical well-being.

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