In today’s fast-paced world, nootropics, or “smart drugs” that are thought to boost cognitive function, memory, and energy levels, are becoming more and more popular. Both synthetic and natural nootropic supplements are available, but some health-centric consumers want to know if there’s an even more natural way to consume these brain-boosting compounds.
Thankfully, there is! There are nootropics in food, and adding certain foods and beverages to your diet is a great way to consume nootropics on a regular basis. In fact, consuming nootropics this way (with or without a regular nootropic supplement) is a great way to support healthy brain function around the clock.
If you’re curious about taking nootropics naturally through food sources, stick around as we explore some natural nootropics found in everyday foods and how they can positively impact your overall well being.
Nootropic foods include mushrooms, eggs, various fruits and veggies, and certain types of tea and coffee.
Nootropic foods are useful, but they won't replace the benefits of a high quality nootropic supplement.
You may combine nootropic-rich foods and a daily nootropic supplement (or choose a nootropic drink that has both) for optimal benefits.
What is a Nootropic?
We mentioned that nootropics are known as “smart drugs,” but let us elaborate:
Nootropics are substances that impact the production and regulation of neurotransmitters to alter brain function in a positive way. Each nootropic substance has a unique interaction with the nervous system, so they each offer their own benefits. For instance, some may help to upregulate dopamine to increase focus, while others help to promote GABA production to improve the stress response and reduce anxiety.
Many foods contain nootropic compounds, and consuming these foods regularly can help to regulate neurotransmitters in a positive way. In some ways, consuming food-based nootropics can be more useful than taking supplements (but a combination of nootropic foods and supplements may be the best way to go).
First, let’s dig into the most popular nootropics in food, and then we’ll compare food-based nootropics to nootropic supplements down below.
Which Foods Contain Nootropics?
Before we go any further, we want to specify that there are two levels to using nootropics in foods. On one hand, some foods contain nootropic compounds that have been studied specifically for their cognition-enhancing benefits. Caffeine is a great example of this–and there is plenty of research to help us understand the way that coffee and tea containing caffeine may help to boost cognitive function.
On another level, there are foods that are thought to have nootropic-like effects thanks to flavonoids, antioxidants, and other bioactive compounds. There may not be much specific research behind these foods and the compounds they contain pertaining directly to nootropic effects, but they still may be worth adding to a brain-healthy diet.
Let’s start with nootropic-compound-containing foods, and then we’ll discuss some other brain healthy foods that could have nootropic-like effects.
Top Nootropic Foods and Drinks
Lion's Mane Mushroom
Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a unique mushroom with potential nootropic properties. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to support brain health. Recent scientific studies have shown promising results regarding its cognitive benefits. Lion's Mane contains compounds called hericenones and erinacines, which have been found to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein essential for the growth and maintenance of neurons. A second animal study confirmed these effects.
According to a 2017 animal study, lion’s mane may also have a positive impact on object recognition and memory. One human trial found that regular lion’s mane doses helped to improve cognitive performance in adults between the ages of 50 and 86 compared to the placebo group. Further research suggests that lion’s mane may be beneficial for preventing cognitive decline caused by neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
The best part? Lion’s Mane mushroom is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world thanks to its delicate, crab-like flavor. This sweet, tender mushroom is often used as a vegan seafood replacement and can be used in a multitude of recipes. Or, just saute it up with some butter or ghee and enjoy it on its own!
Keep in mind that most of the bioactive compounds found in mushrooms are locked away in their tissues, which are difficult to digest. Most mushrooms need to be cooked or submerged in hot water to break down these tissues and make them biologically active.
Green Tea (L-Theanine)
L-Theanine is an amino acid commonly found in green tea (Camellia sinensis). It is known for its relaxing and mood-enhancing effects. L-Theanine may increase alpha brain waves, which are associated with a state of relaxation and alertness. It is also thought to promote the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which play a crucial role in regulating mood and cognition.
According to a 2012 study, a combination of L-theanine and caffeine may be responsible for the improved concentration abilities associated with drinking various green and black tea varieties.
Plus, research shows that the two may pair together to offer significant benefits, like improved reaction times, improved word recognition, improved attention, and improved ability to switch between tasks, with greater accuracy upon completion. With all these potential benefits at hand, taking L-theanine with our daily caffeine dose is a no-brainer.
You can consume green tea to enjoy the benefits of caffeine and L-theanine. Or, pair an L-theanine supplement with your favorite caffeine source. Read our article "How Much L-theanine to Take with Coffee" to learn more.
Coffee, one of the most widely consumed beverages globally, contains caffeine, a well-known natural nootropic. Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant, increasing alertness and improving cognitive performance. It blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine, which promotes relaxation and sleepiness, thereby enhancing wakefulness and focus.
Various studies have found that coffee “can increase alertness and well-being, help concentration, improve mood and limit depression.”
Plus, coffee is one of the largest sources of antioxidants in most people’s diets, apparently by a large margin. That means it may help to lower inflammation in the brain and reduce the chance of inflammatory illnesses. Studies have found that its neuroprotective effects may include reducing the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.
Eggs are rich in choline, which is a precursor for acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning. Many nootropic supplements aim to boost acetylcholine production in order to improve memory and cognitive function.
Alpha-GPC is one such example of a choline-boosting supplement with a good research-backing. In fact, a clinical review of alpha-GPC’s neuroprotective benefits involving over 20 clinical trials and over 4,000 individual subjects confirms that alpha-GPC may offer “modest improvement of cognitive dysfunction in dementia of neurodegenerative and vascular origin.” Another review described alpha-GPC as having “significant effects on cognitive function with a good safety profile and tolerability.”
Various studies over two decades (1991,1992, 2015, 2017) consistently confirm similar neuroprotective and neuroenhancement benefits from choline-enhancing alpha-GPC, including in cases of brain damage, poor blood supply, seizures, and more.
Consuming more eggs may provide similar results by naturally boosting your body’s choline levels.
Turmeric, a root spice known for its bright yellow color, contains curcumin, a compound with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. As a whole, though, turmeric may do much more, and it has been linked to several nootropic effects.
For instance, in a 2018 study conducted by UCLA researchers found that subjects with memory problems showed significant improvements in both memory and attention capacity when taking curcumin supplements daily. At the beginning and end of the study, the researcher conducted brain scans on the subjects and found that subjects taking curcumin had significantly less amyloid-beta and tau, components of the plaque formed in neurodegenerative diseases.
Some evidence suggests that curcumin may even help to stimulate the growth of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is vital for the production of new neurons. By doing so, curcumin may strengthen neural connections and improve neuroplasticity.
One study found that curcumin promoted neuroplasticity in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus of elderly mice. These areas of the brain are involved in memory and learning. The study concluded that the mice experienced an increase in learning ability and memory capacity after taking curcumin.
Unfortunately, many forms of supplemental curcumin are not bioavailable. You may be better off using fresh turmeric in your meals, adding black pepper (peperine) to help increase bioavailability.
Beets are rich in nitrates that may enhance blood flow to the brain and improve cognitive function. Many people ingest beet juice as a workout supplement to enhance blood flow, but the nootropic properties of beets are also significant.
More research on beetroot juice is necessary to understand its full impact, but it has been implicated as a potential supplement for improving dementia, anxiety, and even psychotic disorders.
Brain-Boosting Foods with Nootropic-Like Effects
Although the foods below may not contain specific nootropic compounds, they do contain an array of beneficial compounds that may work together to provide cognition enhancing effects similar to other nootropic supplements. These brain boosting foods include:
- Blueberries: Contain flavonoids, such as anthocyanins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Fatty Fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, sardines): Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for brain health.
- Broccoli: Contains various antioxidants and compounds like glucosinolates, which have neuroprotective properties.
- Pumpkin Seeds: High in magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper, which are important for brain function.
- Dark Chocolate: Contains cocoa flavonoids that may improve cognitive function and increase blood flow to the brain.
- Walnuts: High in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin E, which support brain health.
- Spinach: Contains antioxidants, vitamins (A, C, and K), and folate, which contribute to overall brain health.
- Rosemary: Contains rosmarinic acid, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Oranges: High in vitamin C and antioxidants, which are beneficial for brain health.
Nootropics in Food vs Nootropic Supplements: Which is Best?
Before we really dig deep into the comparison, we want to be clear–eating foods rich in nootropic compounds does not mean you will not benefit from nootropic supplements. In fact, taking a daily nootropic supplement is complementary to a brain-healthy diet, and combining the two methods may be the best way to promote overall, long-term cognitive health.
Still, for those health conscious consumers looking to fine tune their wellness regimen, it helps to understand the specific benefits and differences between nootropic supplements and nootropic-rich foods.
Let’s break it down:
Supplements provide concentrated doses. Taking nootropic supplements is the best way to consume hearty doses of the nootropic compounds you choose. Plus, it's the only way to know exactly how much of each compound you're consuming. Nootropic supplements are a no-fail way to reap the benefits of nootropic compounds, and premade nootropic stacks offer multifaceted benefits without the trouble of having to handpick and arrange all of the individual substances (or foods) you consume.
Supplements are more straightforward than foods.
Certain nootropic-containing foods may be delicate, meaning that cooking (or not cooking) them may harm their nootropic content. You'll need to individually research how to consume nootropic foods to reap optimal benefits, but taking a nootropic supplement may be more straightforward.
Nootropic foods offer around-the-clock benefits. Consuming nootropic rich foods is a great way to keep the nootropic benefits running around the clock. They may take your nootropic supplement once daily, incorporating nootropic foods makes it easier to consume these nootropic compounds in small amounts periodically throughout your day, which may work to provide more consistent benefits or extend the benefits of your nootropic supplements.
Nootropic foods have additional benefits. Most nootropic-containing foods are healthy additions to your regular diet. Most will add fiber, prebiotics, antioxidants, polyphenols, and a variety of vitamins and minerals, which may mean increased benefits, like lower inflammation, higher energy levels, and smoother digestion, all of which may positively affect cognitive health.
Nootropic beverage supplements are a great middle ground. Lucid offers a mix of nootropics + functional mushrooms paired with herbal tea or coffee, so you can reap the natural benefits of nootropic foods and additional nootropic supplements at the same time.
Nootropic Beverages are a Simple Alternative
If you want a convenient alternative, consider a food-based nootropic supplement. Nootropic drinks, like Lucid Coffee, Chai, or Matcha, make it super simple to incorporate the power of nootropics into your daily routine.
Lucid beverages contain a blend of brain-boosting nootropics + powerful mushrooms designed to unlock your brain's full potential so you can zone in on what's important.
Ready to become lucid? Check out our starter kit.
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