woman thinking

Food For Thought: 5 Foods to Increase Your Cognitive Function

Food serves a very important purpose, it keeps us alive.. fair to say that is a pretty important feature! Food for most also provides enjoyment, three times per day and heck sometimes more.

Who ever designed the deliciousness we consume deserves a pat on the back for making it taste so darn good that we choose to eat it for pleasure and not just sustenance. Just thinking about the selection of different tastes, textures and types of foods on offer is making my mouth water.

Above and beyond sustenance and enjoyment however food plays a very special role in regulating our bodies to which we have the ability to manipulate. Active constituents contained within every day foods can be used to enhance cognitive function, increasing focus and improve concentration. Pretty darn awesome yet again, that’s two points to team food. Understanding these food will help you improve your productivity, creativity and focus day to day with minimal effort.

Here are 5 foods to place top centre on your next shopping list.

1. Green Tea

Green tea is up there as one of my favourite cognitive enhancers and that is because it contains L-Theanine. L-Theanine is an amino acid, which is known to block the binding of L-glutamic acid to glutamate receptors in the brain.

The results of a 2007 study (this one here) showed that L-Theanine intake resulted in a reduction in the heart rate and salivary immunoglobulin A responses to an acute stress task relative to the placebo control condition. Moreover, analyses of heart rate variability indicated that the reductions in HR and s-IgA were likely attributable to an attenuation of sympathetic nervous activation.

L-Theanine in a nut shell decreases out stress. Sure one cup of green tea isn’t going to change your life but at the right dose it surely can because stress = no life. The best way to get green tea in if you are not (yet) a tea person is consuming high quality matcha powder. Matcha can be made into a latte, used in bliss balls or added to your next shake. It has a slightly bitter, farm yard flavour but for the most part is quite tasty.

Green tea has also been shown to reduce chronic anxiety, improves alertness and promotes neurogenesis (neuronal growth) and plasticity with long term use.

How best to use?

Green tea or Matcha is best used in the evening when a deadline is looming or late night work is non negotiable.

Dosage: 3-4 cups of high quality green tea or 1 tsp matcha powder

The extract L-Theanine which can be prescribed by a naturopath or health professional is best used to manage chronic anxiety, improve focus, encourage creativity and enhance productivity for cluttered minds.


L-Theanine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16930802


2. Cacao

Possibly the best news you will hear all day, that chocolate is good for you and that I am telling you to eat more of it*

Chocolate is made from cacao beans. When you buy dark chocolate you will notice it has a big percentage slapped across the front, this is letting you know just how much of the chocolate is made from those cacao beans. (80% or higher is recommended). Cacao works it’s magic through it’s content of methylxanthines both theobromine (bad for dogs), caffeine and flavonoids which have measurable neurocognitive effects. Theobromine, which is found in higher amounts than caffeine, seems to be behind several of cacao’s cognitive enhancing effects. Cacao has been shown to improve mood and reduce fatigue, lead to neurogenesis (creation of new neutrons) and improve capacity for memory and acquisition, storage and retrieval.

These effects come about from long term usage, however I have found that in high doses it has an anxiolytic and focus enhancing effect in acute settings. Indicated for melancholy and perfect for those who cannot tolerate coffee.

How to use?

Best for mid afternoon slump in place of coffee, for feelings of melancoly at any time or interestingly as an early morning pre workout.

Dosage – 1-2 tablespoons cacao per serve (start with 1 tablespoon)

Theobromine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25750625

* Put down the cadbury’s, you know I am talking about the good stuff!

3. Blueberries

Antioxidants may be a buzz word at the moment but for a good reason. They improve memory & attention, balance mood and can slow down the process of cognitive decline. Blueberries in particular contain a high quantity of antioxidants known as anthocyanins. (As a simple guide – if it is dark purple in colour it is full of anthocyanin). Integrating blueberries into your diet may not just taste delicious but be part of your productivity plan.

High dosing blueberries an hour before an exam however may not leave you with the memory of an elephant and cognitive ability of Einstein but daily consumption over prolonged periods just might. It has been show that anthocyanin’s are able to cross the blood brain barrier and localize in various brain regions important for learning and memory, therefore improving both. (Study here). Antioxidants also have the ability to protect vulnerable neurons, enhance neuronal function and stimulate neurogenesis.

The secondary effect of blueberries which may interest you in the more present moment is that they have a marked positive effect on your digestive system. They improve digestive function restoring the microbiome environment and thus positively effecting the Gut-Brain axis. An area I highly recommend you look into starting here.

Within our stomachs we produce neurotransmitters responsible for keeping our mood balanced and energy high all day long, so if our digestive system is functioning optimally then so will our minds. Blueberries antioxidant content and prebiotic fibre is specifically what causes it’s gut loving effect, improves the mucosal layer in our stomach and promotes proper absorption.

The digestive system turns a new leaf every 3-5 days so expect to see results fast.

How best to use?

Best to consume fresh or frozen organic blueberries each morning and as a before bed snack with yoghurt. Note – freezing them does not lower the anthocyanin content however powdering them lowers it by half.

Dosage: 1/2 cup per day.

Anthocyanins –


3. Salmon

Time and time again we are told to eat more salmon and there is reason for it. Salmon, not unlike sardines and cod liver oil are high in EPA and DHA (names too long not to be abbreviated). EPA and DHA have different roles but act in unison to create it’s cognitive effect. It is easy to find a study that is in favour of eating more salmon to starve off depression and also improve memory and concentration and improve attention. Rightfully so in my opinion, it is pretty powerful stuff. The only thing you need to be aware of is that a high proportion of our fish supply is spoilt with heavy metals such as mercury and antibiotic use so whilst eating fish on a weekly basis may be a good idea I wouldn’t suggest to have it every other night of the week unless it is Alaskan wild caught. High quality, practitioner only omega 3 supplements are the way to go to get the full effect of this active constituent n

Optimal time to use

Every day as a supplement to increase mood and as a preventative against cognitive decline. It is also used for post natal depression.

Eat wild caught Alaskan salmon 1-2 times per week.

4. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a newer player on the market attracting a lot of attention and appearing in most supermarkets, pharmacies and health food shops along side it’s coconutty counterparts e.g. coconut butter, flakes and water.

Coconut oil when consumed in the right dosages has the potential to improve concentration, focus and energy levels through instigating ‘ketosis’. Ketosis burns fat for energy and is the body’s backup system for times your blood sugar gets low. Fun fact, they are found in breast milk to help develop a growing baby’s brain.

Usually you would have to eat a strict low carb diet to push your body into ketosis however the MCT’s found in coconut oil conveniently do this for us. This is how…

MCT’s are small and readily metabolized, crossing the blood-brain barrier to provide instant energy to the brain in the form of ketone bodies.

Ketone bodies also promotes the pathway that turns glutamate into GABA, contributing to some of it’s cognitive effects. Ketones unlike glucose leaves less residual in the process of turning energy (food) into ATP (energy), and are deemed a cleaner energy source.

Optimal time to use

Upon waking or mid morning to enhance concentration, energy and focus to get you through to dinner time. Try a bullet proof coffee which combines ketones with coffee for an extra hit however beware if you do not tolerate coffee well. Mix 1 tablespoon of coconut oil with 1 tsp of honey and 1tsp of cacao and top with heated milk or water for a hot chocolate. Can be drunk daily.

MCT – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15123336



Jennifer Ward, Adv dip Nat, BCom Econ, Masters Repro Med (studying)

Jennifer is a qualified naturopath with a focus on fertility, pregnancy, hormonal imbalances.

Learn more about Jennifer here

Book a session with Jennifer here

To learn more about food for your brain health or for speaking enquires on this topic get in touch at hello@halsahealth.com.au


Matcha Bliss Balls // www.jessicasepel.com/health-lifestyle/5-ingredient-matcha-bliss-balls/

Spicy Hot Cacao // www.wellfed.online/#/recipes/

Bullet Proof Coffee // www.ketoconnect.net/recipe/bulletproof-coffee/

Coconut Salmon // www.heilalavanilla.co.nz/blogs/recipes/71648515-coconut-salmon


L-Theanine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16930802


MCT – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15123336


Anthocyanins – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16053243

Theobromine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25750625

– http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/wp-



Neurogenesis – https://www.ted.com/talks/sandrine_thuret_you_can_grow_new_brain_cells_