Got that 2020 Hustle? 5 Foods to Maximize Brain Clarity & Productivity

Jan 07, 2020

The saying “you are what you eat” doesn’t only apply to 6-pack abs, clear skin, and toned muscles. Food has a profound effect on your brain too, and what you eat directly affects your happiness, motivation, and productivity.

The human brain works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for our entire lives without a moment of rest. It controls our breathing, heartbeat, movement, thoughts, moods, and feelings.

Eating a high-quality diet that nourishes the brain boosts cognitive power, making you feel energized, motivated, positive and focused. Long term, you’re less likely to lose your memory or feel depressed.  

On the other hand, a diet high in processed foods and low in nutrients will leave you feeling tired, unmotivated, anxious, and foggy – while actually causing damage to your brain.  Processed food and refined sugars cause inflammation that has been linked to impaired brain function over time. Research has also linked refined sugar with anxiety and depression.

If your New Year’s resolutions include getting fit, learning a new skill, performing at work, or reducing stress, then what you should really focus on is maximizing your brain health. Without motivation and clear thinking it would be difficult to stick to any of those resolutions.

Eat for optimal brain health, and you may just have the most rewarding, productive year yet.

Here are the top 5 foods to eat to maximize brain health & productivity:


Or other fatty fish, such as mackerel, sardines, herring, and anchovies.

The omega-3 fats found in fish, called EPA and DHA, are essential for numerous brain functions. DHA is also a building block in the cells of the brain and nervous system. Plant sources of omega-3s such as flax and walnuts do not contain DHA, so if seafood isn’t your thing, consider an omega-3 supplement derived from algae.


Berries improve cognitive function and significantly slow down brain aging. Berries are neuroprotectors because they are packed with antioxidants, which clean up the wrecking-ball-like free radicals that float around the brain and cause damage. Blueberries in particular have also been shown to improve memory.


Fermented foods are loved by our brains because our brain and gut are highly connected by the gut-brain axis. Serotonin, the happiness chemical, is actually produced by bacteria in the gut. This means mood is partially regulated by the diverse bacteria that live in our gut. If this bacterial microbiome becomes unbalanced by inflammation or a poor diet, it has a direct impact on the neurotransmitters that are produced and can contribute to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive conditions. 

A growing body of research has shown that fermented foods improve brain function because of this impact on the production of neurotransmitters. Fermented or “probiotic” foods include kombucha, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. 

Foods high in fiber can also promote a healthy gut, and those include vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and seeds.


The body’s normal response to stress is to release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol speeds up our heart rate, pumps glucose into our muscles, and helps prepare us for a fight or flight situation. While this kept us alive in the hunter-gatherer days, it is ill-adapted for today’s chronic exposure to stress. 

Constant high levels of cortisol cause damage throughout the body, but particularly in the brain. Cortisol has been shown to actually decrease cognition. This is why adaptogens can have a significant impact on brain health. 

Adaptogens help reduce the exaggerated response to stress, which results in improved focus and attention, less mental fatigue and anxiety, and a generally healthier brain.  Some good adaptogens for maximizing brain health include rhodiola, turmeric, and functional mushrooms such as Reishi and Lion’s Mane. 

An easy way to get your dose of brain-loving adaptogens? I’ve been using the new brain health blend Mind Over Matter. It’s a powerful combination of Reishi, Lion’s Mane and Chaga - a trio of non-psychedelic mushrooms to enhance your brain’s productivity. I add a tsp into my morning tea and reap the benefits all day long. Which brings us to #5 ...  


Most of us rely on caffeine to wake up in the morning, but studies have found that in addition to the temporary concentration boost, caffeine may actually help the brain solidify new memories. Caffeine acts a psychostimulant, meaning it speeds up information processing.

Research has found that this effect lasts well beyond finishing the cup and increases the brain’s capacity to process information even at rest. The result is improved cognitive performance. Other studies have found that caffeine protects against the toxins that build up in the brain during the day while we are awake.


While food is fuel for the engine, sleep is the routine maintenance. During sleep is when the body clears toxins and waste products from the brain that build up while we’re awake. If this “housekeeping” is not accomplished each night, waste products can build up and cause significant damage to brain cells. Sleep also affects brain plasticity, or its ability to adapt to new information. Lack of sleep can make it more difficult to form memories, respond quickly, or concentrate. Chronic lack of sleep has been directly linked to cognitive decline.

The first step in accomplishing any health or performance goal should be to optimize the health and productivity of your brain.  Aiming for 8 hours of good quality sleep a night combined with eating the right foods will get your brain on track for a happy, healthy and productive 2020.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Danielle Schaub

A registered dietitian, Danielle is a menu writer, chef motivator, and Territory Foods' resident nutritionist by day. Based in D.C., you can find her being an utter novice in the CrossFit gym, frolicking with her dogs, and cheering for all the sports teams.