This article originally appeared on Monster.com.
For busy working people such as yourself, it’s easy to think of food in terms of what it helps your body stop doing: It quells stomach growls during meetings and suppresses the hangry feelings that put you this close to blasting off a snarky email to co-workers.
Scratch that approach and start thinking about what your workday lunch (and every other meal, too) can do for you and your brainpower.
If you eat smarter, the healthy food you put into your body can actually act as a brain booster and might just improve your workplace performance. Need lunch ideas for work, or some healthy snacks to stock up on? These foods can help keep your brain at its prime.
That apple-a-day proverb may have some real truth to it: Apples (specifically apple peels) are packed with quercetin, an antioxidant that’s known for its ability to counteract circulation-related conditions such as high cholesterol and even heart disease, says Matt Kuchan, Ph.D., a nutrition scientist.
But quercetin might also be able to help you remember deadlines, come up with genius ideas, and “when combined with other important brain nutrients, quercetin may be able to help delay the decline of cognitive health,” he adds. Kuchan recommends getting 5 milligrams of quercetin a day, which you can find in about one apple.
“Unsaturated fatty acids are best for the body and the brain,” says Markus Chwajol, M.D., a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, which is great news for those of you who just can’t get enough of trendy avocado toast. the type of healthy fats found in avocados, and have been shown to benefit your brain function (and your movement and sleep, too!), according to a study published in the journal Diabetes.
Though there’s been a back and forth with regards to just how healthy coconut oil is, it remains a great source of medium-chain triglycerides, which the body immediately taps for energy. “They’re also used for brain energy,” says Chwajol.
The brain usually relies on glucose for a pick-me-up, but oftentimes eating a meal heavy in glucose—such as a big bowl of pasta—means “you’re going to get some energy to the brain,” Chwajol explains, “but you’re going to get sleepy, so the effects cancel each other out.”
Try some popcorn cooked in coconut oil and tossed with nuts and raisins for your next brain-boosting afternoon snack instead.
Good-for-you greens like spinach and kale are packed with the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein has been shown to improve verbal fluency and memory, and when combined with zeaxanthin, it helps boost the brain’s processing speed.
Kuchan recommends eating 6 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin a day, which you’ll find in about one cup of steamed kale.
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As with the unsaturated fatty acids found in avocados, polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, are considered “good” fats. Omega-3s help promote cognitive function and increase your brain’s ability to access and use information, so they could be just what you need to stay on point and recall key stats during a client meeting. They’re especially important to load up on because your body can’t produce them on its own, Kuchan says. He recommends a 1.5-ounce serving of salmon to get a healthy dose of omega-3s.
Reach for sunflower seeds when your salty-food cravings kick in. Snacking on a handful or sprinkling them on your salad will provide close to 15 milligrams of vitamin E, the recommended daily amount, Kuchan says.
Vitamin E plays a role in memory and can help you recall things faster, which means you’ll lessen the chances of mind wandering taking you off task.