Foods That Increase BDNF Might Surprise You!

Foods that increase BDNF
Foods that increase BDNF

Any foods that increase BDNF definitely deserve consideration as regulars in our diets. 


Because BDNF feeds our brains, and healthy BDNF levels support the area of our brains associated with learning and memory.

If robust cognitive performance is your goal, foods that increase BDNF will help you achieve and maintain it! Amazingly, these foods not only work immediately but also have a long-lasting impact on your brain’s health. 

In other words, the BDNF that gets you a better grade on today’s test will help you solve the crossword puzzles you work on at 95!

Research on BDNF Deficiency

A BDNF deficiency is an invitation to disaster. A serious deficiency may lead to:

  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Epilepsy 
  • Schizophrenia

and depression. 

A search of “low BDNF symptoms” returned a surprising number of links to research on the connection between low BDNF levels and depression. 

Multiple studies have gone further to explore the relationships between BDNF deficiency, depression, and suicide. If we want to avoid such tragic outcomes, how do we boost our BDNF levels?  

These lifestyle factors  are known to raise BDNF:

  • moderate to high-intensity exercise 
  • adequate sleep 
  • exposure to sunshine 
  • stress management
  • limiting our snacking (otherwise known as intermittent fasting)

and, of course, a healthy diet!

Foods that Increase BDNF

On January 10, 2021, researchers from the Netherlands’ Maastricht University published a remarkable study. Their systemic review looked at all the best evidence for BDNF-boosting ingredients, diets, and supplements.  

The researchers searched multiple science journal databases for BDNF and diet or nutrition terms. Of the 3,641 studies they found, only 48 met their predefined standards:

  • The study must include human adults.
  • The study must be original research with a nutritional component in English.

The qualifying studies underwent extensive reviews. Surprisingly many foods and ingredients on the market which touted BDNF-improving properties had little to no scientific support. 

The list of unsupported foods and ingredients included some highly regarded ones:

  • green tea
  • reservatrol and quercetin 
  • Ginkgo biloba extract 
  • dark chocolate 
  • long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements

There’s no indication that these ingredients don’t benefit our brains. However, their potential benefits may occur through other channels, such as boosting nitric oxide

Probiotics produced a mixed bag of results. Most strains had little impact, but a couple of studies showed they improved BDNF levels. 

The researchers were particularly interested in the probiotics data. They found this study on whole-grain rye bread intake and BDNF especially impressive. It suggested that the gut-brain axis may play a role in boosting BDNF.

What else made the Dutch study’s list of foods that increase BDNF?

  • curcumin (found in turmeric)
  • seaweed
  • Eriobotrya japonica (loquats)
  • ellagic acid (walnuts are a good source)
  • ayahuasca (ancient Amazonian tribes used it as a hallucinogenic in spiritual ceremonies)
  • macular xanthophyll (such as the lutein and zeaxanthin in leafy greens)

The researchers concluded that only polyphenol acids, phenolic compounds, and a “fiber-rich diet”  significantly impacted BDNF levels. 

The greatest concentrations of phenolic acids occur in fruits’ seeds and skin or vegetable leaves. Good sources include:

  • foxtail millet
  • rye

    Foods that increase BDNF are as close as your nearest produce department!
  • wheat
  • peanuts
  • olives 
  • cocoa
  • coffee 
  • red raspberries 
  • strawberries
  • blueberries 
  • blackberries
  • kiwis 

For the best high-fiber sources, think:

  • beans
  • flax seeds
  • blackberries and raspberries
  • passion fruit
  • almonds
  • avocados 

What do phenolic acids or compounds and fiber have in common? You’ll only find them in plant-based foods

Some people may claim that other ingredients can make us smarter by increasing our BDNF levels. However, the extensive research from January 2021 has made one thing very clear:

If you want to eat foods that increase BDNF, a plant-based diet is the obvious choice!

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