Measuring and assessing intelligence can be a very tricky thing, but nearly everyone can be enticed by products that claim to increase their intelligence. For instance, a theory called “The Mozart Effect” claimed that exposing younger children to classical music, specifically Mozart, would speed their mental development and increase their mental ceiling in adulthood. The idea has moved plenty of albums and CDs over the years because of a few key features. First, adults associate classical music with sophistication, so the idea that it would curve a baby’s development toward genius has at least some associative sense; second, the companies had suddenly found a new way to market music that was already in the public domain; and third, and most importantly, all that is needed is to have the music on in the background for the child, so the parent is essentially signing up for a duty-free experience. Now it’s worth knowing that very little stock is put into the Mozart Effect anymore (although classical music does make for lovely lyric-free music to listen to while you work), but today we are going to look at another approach to getting a free mental boost that has a little more weight to it: the topic of brain food.

Now by “brain food” we mean foods that provide a boost to our memory, focus or creativity rather than sustenance for a hungry zombie. Sort of like the Mozart Effect, it is important to know that there is no magic fix you can make to your diet that will make calculus easier, but there very much are tiny benefits you might gain by making sure that your diet is varied and rich enough in some of the following options. Even things like eating meals at a regular time and getting enough sleep are far more beneficial for your mental prowess than any magic blend of superfoods. For our purposes, I will divide our options between foods that might have long-term, more passive effects on your mental health from those that are closer to stimulants that give the consumer a temporary boost to their focus or attention. Here is our first category:

● Fish: so this is one of the most discussed of the “brain foods,” and it turns out that yes, there is quite a bit of evidence that eating fish as a regular part of your diet can increase the health of your brain, particularly long-term. According to WebMD, the secret is in the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. “A diet with higher levels of them has been linked to lower dementia and stroke risks and slower mental decline; plus, they may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older.” As an interesting tidbit, the real benefit of these fatty acids comes from them helping us get deeper, more restful sleep, which in turn helps us maintain healthy cognition throughout life.

● Chocolate and Nuts: that’s right; another excuse for a little desert here and there. Much like fish and it’s helpful omega-3’s, nuts and chocolate are a great source of vitamin E, which promotes neural health throughout our lives. Chocolate actually double-dips into our second category for its sugars and natural caffeine content, so look for it below as well.

● Fruits, such as avocados and blueberries: these options really rely on the interconnectedness of the body, but our brain is very dependent on healthy circulation and blood flow, and fruits such as these are good for encouraging heart and vascular health. This is because “fruits like avocados can cut the risk of heart disease and lower bad cholesterol. This reduces your risk of plaque buildup and enhances blood flow, offering a simple, tasty way to fire up brain cells.”

● Whole Grain food options: very similar to the note above, avoiding processed foods and replacing them with whole grain alternatives is a great way to reduce cholesterol and promote healthy blood flow up to our brain.

So as you can see, none of these items are on the list because they contain some super-secret protein; instead, they contain minor benefits over a long period of time. Consider them to be elements that you try to fit into your healthy diet over the course of your life‒in the same way an athlete doesn’t prepare for the Olympics a week ahead of time, you can’t just eat salmon all day before a history test or a presentation at work.

So as a last note, what can you do if you are in a pinch and need a mental boost? Well, there are plenty of products that advertise themselves as “nootropics,” which equate themselves to mental steroids, and you are free to weigh the risks of those on your own, but here are some more natural alternatives to give you some mental pep when you are feeling sluggish.

● Caffeine – whether you prefer coffee or tea, this is still the most popular go-to for adults everywhere for finding the motivation to take on a task. Now relying too much on caffeine can have clear negative side-effects, but our blog has already actually taken a look at how much caffeine is safe to consume on a daily basis, so take a peek over there if you are concerned about your drinking habits.

● Sugars – and here the first word is also moderation. That said, there’s a reason that sugar is notorious for getting children riled up, and that is because a big dose of sugar is one of the main fuels for brain activity. Considering your sugar intake levels as well as the source of your sugar (for instance, fresh orange juice will come with more benefits than a donut) is important here, but getting some sugar in your system in the morning can offer a kick start to your day.

● Vitamins and Supplements – here things get a little more hazy, but there are some focus-based benefits to taking daily vitamins as part of your wellness routine. According to WebMD again, “Although many of the reports on the brain-boosting power of supplements like vitamins B, C, E, beta-carotene and magnesium are promising, a supplement is only useful to people whose diets are lacking in that specific nutrient. Some researchers are cautiously optimistic about ginseng, ginkgo and vitamin, mineral and herb combinations and their impact on the brain, but more proof is still needed.”

The overall answer here is like most issues in health: your healthiest life involves planning, research, focus and building good habits. Quick fixes are incredibly few and far between.