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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: May 2023

Brain Food

Douglas Denton Church


  • The top 10 foods that improve brain health.
  • Ten exercises that will help boost memory, concentration, and focus.
Brain Food
filadendron via Getty Images

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As we all know, “The Brain” is the key organ that allows us to be “human.”  It is the macro/micro-processor of all time!  The evolution of the human species into its present form is driven by the incredible development of the human brain.  No other species is capable of understanding itself at the level and to the degree that we do as humans.  Just as the brain makes us the superb intellectual and thinking being that we are, when it stops its high-level functioning even a little bit, we lose the magic of being human very quickly.

Without diminishing the role that the other organs play in our survival, they are all subordinate to the dominance and controlling influence of the brain.  It is the supreme organ. So why do we work so hard to damage it or limit its capacity for creativity, artistic, and academic excellence?  What is different about most of our brains from the brains of Tesla, Einstein, or Edison?  What can we or should we be doing to enhance its performance or, at a minimum, to maintain it?

Lawyers only function through the capacity of the brain to analyze problems and project solutions.  No amount of muscle strength will compensate for the loss of 1/100th of brain capacity.

With this in mind, doesn’t it make sense to give thought and take action to feed and nurture YOUR BRAIN?

Let’s take this in two steps.  First, let’s talk about actually FEEDING the brain.  According to the Premier Neurology and Wellness Center, the top 10 foods that improve brain health are the following:

  1. Blueberries, the ultimate “Super Food.”  In addition to the fact that they are fabulous by themselves or in almost anything, they contain both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that obviously help reduce inflammation which in turn reduces the risks associated with brain aging and neurodegenerative disease.  Other studies suggest that the antioxidants help improve communication between brain cells! I love blueberries in a smoothie, together with a banana and yogurt.
  2. Eggs.  What’s not to like about eggs!?  They are rich in B vitamins and a nutrient called choline.  Lack of B vitamins has been associated with depression and dementia and choline is used by the body to create neurotransmitters responsible for memory. Premier Neurology doesn’t say how you should prepare your eggs, so I say SCRAMBLED with hot sauce!
  3. Fatty Fish.  Trout, salmon, and sardines are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids which, surprisingly enough, are essential elements in the brain’s fatty tissues. It helps with the production of brain and nerve cells and a deficiency of omega-3’s can result in learning disorders and depression. Eating salmon once a week is a treat and it is easy and quick to prepare. The secret to a tasty salmon dish is in the sauces. A simple lemon butter sauce is great and quick, but you might also like to try a honey garlic glaze.
  4. Fruits. The fruits which are high in vitamin C are the best.  A recent study suggests that Vitamin C helps avoid damage to brain cells and may help preventing Alzheimer’s.  So, load up on oranges, guava, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, and bell peppers. When and if the definitive study on the effect on Alzheimer’s is published, you will be ahead of the game.
  5. Leafy Greens.  Adding vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene to your diet by eating broccoli, collards, spinach, and kale will help with conditioning brain cells and has been seen to improve memory. A good salad by itself or as the bed for a protein makes perfect sense for at least one meal a day.
  6. Nuts.  I love cashews, but actually walnuts are the best nut-based source of healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin-E, as well as more omega-3’s.  Some studies have shown that nuts are linked to improved cognition, sharper memory, and slower mental decline. A handful of nuts is a perfect snack.
  7. Pumpkin Seeds. I confess that when it’s Halloween time and the pumpkin carving is underway, I have failed to save and prepare the seeds.  But not anymore. Easy to toast and tasty with a sprinkling of salt.  They are loaded with zinc, magnesium, copper, and iron, which are all valuable in learning and memory, controlling nerve signals, and preventing brain fog. Another excellent snack food.  
  8. Tea and Coffee.  It’s about the caffeine and if you are drinking green tea, the amino acid L-theanine, which can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and increase neurotransmitter functions. Coffee and tea also contain antioxidants. There is a growing body of evidence that the short-term effects of caffeine help stimulate the nervous system and help improve both physical and mental performance. Along with many of my swimmer friends, a cup of coffee before competition is now the routine.
  9. Turmeric.  This tasty spice is also capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and it has been associated with the growth of new brain cells, improved memory, and helping reduce the tendency to depression. It is easily added to just about anything but look for recipes that call for it as an essential part of the dish. (There are some side effects that you should know about, see here for a WebMD article that goes into detail). 
  10. Whole grains.  Vitamin E contained in pasta, barley, brown rice, oatmeal, and bulgur wheat helps protect and preserve healthy cells, which in turn helps brain function and prevents neurodegeneration. A breakfast of oatmeal with walnuts and raisins and sprinkled with a bit of turmeric sounds delicious.

The good news is that those 10 foods aren’t hard to find, make great breakfasts and lunches, and supplement any dinner.  You probably already have most if not all of them in your kitchen pantry now….maybe with the exception of the pumpkin seeds.

Now let’s take the second step.  Brain maintenance is not just about food.  It’s also about stimulating the brain in other ways. Honing your mental sharpness and keeping your brain healthy can be benefited by engaging in certain exercises that help boost memory, concentration, and focus.  According to here are 10 suggestions that have proven benefits for brain-boosting. 

  1. Put together a jigsaw puzzle or work out a crossword puzzle.  I log-in to The New Yorker for the free on-line jigsaw puzzles and usually while I am enjoying my first cup of coffee in the morning, I will complete one puzzle at Level 3. It usually takes me between 5 to 10 minutes and there is always a certain satisfaction that goes along with completing it in the shortest time. I also get the New York Times crossword daily and it is only easy on Monday. Warning!  Solving these puzzles can be addictive.
  2. Build your vocabulary.  Lots of brain regions are involved in vocabulary tasks, particularly areas that are important to visual and auditory processing.  Keeping a notebook of new or unfamiliar words when you are reading and then look it up and use it intentionally during the day. Let’s see:  How about “abnegation” for today?
  3. Dance.  Not just the casual swaying back and forth (even though that’s probably good for you too) but actually learn some serious steps, such as salsa, tap, ballroom, etc.  Even Zumba or Jazzercise provide the same advantage.  Studies have shown this demanding physical activity to increase the brain’s processing speed and memory. As someone with two left feet, when I learned the New York Bus Stop with a group of friends, there is no question that it demanded my utmost concentration.
  4. Engage ALL of your senses in an activity at the same time!  A 2015 research report by PubMed Central showed that simultaneously engaging all five of your senses at the same time will strengthen your brain.  Cooking is an excellent example of how this can work. Try baking a batch of cookies and enjoy smelling, touching, tasting, seeing, and hearing all at the same time. If you are not into baking, how about grilling a flank steak that you have marinated overnight in soy sauce, vegetable oil, and garlic?
  5. Learn a new skill.  Another PubMed Central study done in 2014 showed that learning a new skill improves memory function in older adults.  Such new skills may include repairing your car, building a bird house, or riding a horse. I bought the guitar and now I need to sign up for the lessons so I can actually play it, but that’s my “new skill” for 2023.
  6. Teach a new skill to someone else.  The old story goes that a teacher learns twice by teaching others. This may be risky depending on your “someone else,” but take a golf lesson and then teach what you have learned from the pro to your golf buddy. You will have to explain it and demonstrate it, both of which have the desired effect on your brain.
  7. Listen to or play music. While some go along with the notion that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, the reality is that you can learn to play an instrument at any age. (See 6 above for my combination of “new skill” and “music.”)  All of this boosts creative thinking and helps you generate more innovative solutions to problems as compared with being in silence.  You can easily find an app that will allow you to have music (your choice of genre) playing in the background on your computer while you are doing something else, such as writing an article for Voice of Experience while listening to Bach…which I am doing now as I work on this article.   
  8. Take a new route to work or home.  Or try a different mode of transportation, like biking, or Lyft, or walking instead of driving.  Changing up the routine engages the brain because of the new demands being made upon your reasoning and analytical skills! It may not be true for everyone, but I calculate that there may be as many as 20 different ways for me to get from home to work.  Keeping an eye on what’s happening in the different neighborhoods as I drive by is also stimulating.
  9. Meditate.  The numerous benefits of meditation have been well documented.  Calming your body and slowing your breathing helps reduce stress and anxiety but also helps fine tune memory and information processing! At least five minutes a day does the trick. I have learned to combine my swimming with a meditation period. I call it my “all day stroke” which requires no thought about the swimming part and frees my mind to relax and wander.
  10. Learn a new language. Again, it’s never too late to give this a try.  My college French classes are coming back to me now…mais oui!  Numerous studies have shown that bilingualism contributes to better memory, improved visual-spatial skills, and higher levels of creativity. C’est vrai!

For you as an Older and Wiser Lawyer (OWL), I hope these tips may help keep you at the top of your game and that you will continue to amaze your younger colleagues!