Superfoods are nutrient-dense wonders that have captivated the modern world with their potential to revitalize our most important and complex organ, the brain. With gaining popularity the superfoods market is expected to be worth $165 billion in 2023 and grow at roughly 10.24% over the following 5 years.
Don’t be fooled though—superfoods are much more than overpriced protein shakes and berries from the Amazon rainforest. Instead, it’s an intricate mix of ancient traditions, modern scientific research, and innovative culinary practices.
In this comprehensive article, we want to avoid the mainstream and dive deep into underappreciated superfoods, the science behind their impact on cognitive function, and practical ways to incorporate them into our daily lives.
Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science
Ancient cultures have revered certain foods and herbs for their cognitive benefits over centuries, and have passed this wisdom down generation after generation. Modern science has recently begun to explore these beliefs, and better understand their properties and benefits at a much higher level.
Ginkgo Biloba is Over 200 Million Years Old
Since its discovery, the “living fossil” has been a centerpiece of human medicine. It is the plant that survived the dinosaurs and has been revered for its medicinal properties since discovered. The potential of benefiting memory and cognitive function continues to be reinforced by research. Ginkgo Biloba is rich in flavonoids and terpenoids that help combat oxidative stress, improving blood flow to the brain and protecting against neurodegenerative disorders.
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms and Neural Networks
The Lion’s Mane mushroom has had an almost viral ascent over the past decade. This mushroom has been used traditionally in Chinese medicine; and has compounds that stimulate the production of nerve growth factors. Preliminary studies suggest it may support brain health by promoting neuronal growth, reducing inflammation, and defending against neurodegenerative diseases.
Ashwagandha and Adaptogenic Properties
An ancient Ayurvedic tradition, Ashwagandha has become a modern staple for people worldwide. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as it’s rich in withanolides. Ashwagandha is believed to help protect cells from free radicals, by utilizing its adaptogenic properties. Emerging studies have also hinted at Ashwagandhas’s potential for neural growth and even to combat the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The Top 5 Underappreciated Superfoods
In the realm of cognitive function, polyphenols play a crucial role in combating oxidative stress, supporting neural communication, and fostering brain plasticity. They are naturally occurring compounds found predominantly in plants and are revered for their high antioxidant capacity.
Here is a short list of 5 underappreciated and less talked about superfoods that’ll give you the polyphenol boost you need:
Long venerated in Asian cultures as a beverage, in ceremony, and in daily practice, green tea is packed with catechins, antioxidants that traverse the blood-brain barrier, enhancing cognitive function. Green tea also contains a modest amount of caffeine, which, in tandem with its L-theanine content, offers a balanced boost of alertness and energy without jitters.
Always a joy for the palate and the brain, dark chocolate has a high cacao content and is packed with flavanols. These compounds are recognized for enhancing blood flow to the brain, increasing cognitive function.
Often dubbed ‘green gold,’ avocado is a rich source of healthy Omega 3 fats. Regular consumption supports overall brain health and cognitive functions. It’s also packed with folate and vitamin K, both nutrients are pivotal for cognitive functions and preventing blood clots in the brain.
Containing medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), coconut oil has been highlighted for its potential role in cognitive awareness and function. It offers a quick energy source, which could be especially beneficial in conditions like Alzheimer’s, where glucose metabolism is impaired.
Walnuts and Flaxseed
These aren’t just crunchy additions to your salads, cereal, and baked goods. These superfoods are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, that offers a variety of neuroprotective benefits. Regularly including these in your diet can pave the way for enhanced cognitive functions and possibly deter the onset of neurodegenerative conditions.
The Symbiotic Relationship of Gut and Brain Health
Modern science has illuminated the intricate connections between our digestive system and brain. The gut, often termed the “second brain,” is critical to many aspects of our health, including the mind. Our intestinal flora, a complex ecosystem of microorganisms, plays a crucial role in digesting food, producing vitamins, and warding off infections.
Recent revelations have highlighted a direct communication line between the gut and the brain. Imbalances in the gut microbiome can influence mood disorders and cognitive health issues throughout the body. Foods rich in probiotics, like yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, improve gut health and influence mood and cognitive function.
Beyond aiding digestion, fiber-rich foods like lentils, beans, and whole grains can modulate the gut flora. A balanced gut flora is vital for mental well-being, potentially influencing stress, anxiety, and even depressive symptoms. The mind-body connection is real, and it starts with understanding gut health and making better choices overall.
Better Brain Health on a Budget
In today’s health-conscious world, there’s often a misconception that nourishing your brain has to come with a hefty price tag. However, with some savvy strategies and ingenuity, you can feed your brain its needs without breaking the bank.
Seasonal and Local Shopping
One of the best ways to acquire affordable superfoods is to focus on those in-season. Not only are in-season foods fresher and richer in nutrients, and tastier, but are also more abundantly available, which drives prices down. Moreover, venturing into local farmer’s markets can lead you to a goldmine of affordable selections—just know what you’re looking for.
The Power of Preservation
Frozen sections in grocery stores are often overlooked when searching for superfoods. Yet, many frozen varieties, especially berries and green veggies, retain most nutrients and can be just as effective for brain health. They also come with the added advantage of longer shelf lives and often lower prices.
Plant Based Home-Grown
Growing superfoods can be fulfilling and cost-effective if you have a green thumb or even just some extra space. Herbs like rosemary, sage, and turmeric are known for their brain-boosting properties and can thrive in pots on a sunny windowsill. Similarly, veggies such as spinach and kale can be grown in backyard plots or containers.
Staying Informed Buying with Bonuses
The world of superfoods is ever-evolving. What might be a costly trend today might be replaced by a more affordable yet equally potent alternative tomorrow. Many organic food stores and specialized shops offer enticing incentives to make the switch more affordable.
From significant discounts to loyalty programs, these establishments are making it easier than ever to nourish your brain. Some even offer sign-up bonuses for first-time buyers, providing a cost-effective way to jumpstart your journey into the world of brain-boosting superfoods.
Likewise, before you dive into the world of superfoods head-first, make sure you find affordable options that come as a byproduct of ethical farming, as there have been reports of exploitation related to avocados, acai berries, and more.
As we stand at the crossroads of ancient tradition and groundbreaking technologies, it’s evident that our past still holds the key to our future. And in researching longevity and the desire for an active and healthy life, nutrition emerges as our ally.
We broke down the benefits of the 5 most overlooked superfoods and how to introduce them into our diet seamlessly, as well as the juxtaposition between age-old wisdom and cutting-edge science by showcasing humanity’s continuous journey towards holistic well-being.
Incorporating them into our diets is more than just a trend; it’s a testament to the profound ways our dietary choices can shape the health and vitality of our minds.
Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony
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