June is Brain Health Awareness Month, and for the co-founders and co-CEOs of Brainiac Foods, brain nutrition and making healthy food choices is as important for our overall wellbeing as getting enough sleep, exercise and living an active, social life. That’s why Jonathan Wolfson and Mark Brooks started their company — to provide families with convenient and delicious options that support brain development, cognitive function and overall brain health.
Wolfson and Brooks say they believe cognitive nutrition is the next billion-dollar food category. They sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss their company and what they’re doing in food science and biotechnology to make brain nutrition accessible to all.
How it started
The inception of Brainiac Foods was inspired by Wolfson’s personal experience as a dad. When his youngest child was diagnosed with “failure to thrive” (FTT), he realized the significance of proper nutrition for brain and eye development during infancy. He leveraged his background in building better-for-you brands and spoke with pediatricians, neurologists, pediatric neurologists and many leading experts in the field. They all assured him they had done the research and most infant formulas are now fortified with the critical nutrients his son needed. But then they asked: what about your older kids? What about you? Are they getting the critical nutrients their brains need? Through extensive research, he discovered the answer was no, that the average American family was consuming less than 20% of the recommended daily intake of many of these nutrients, like omega-3s, choline and lutein, and that was really the lightbulb moment for Brainiac. It was then that he enlisted the expertise of Mark Brooks, who shared a background in food science and biotechnology. Together, they embarked on a mission to develop nutrition-based products that can improve brain health for people of all ages.
“We need to be consuming and replacing critical nutrients that our brains are made of every day,” said Wolfson. “This is essential for our brains to develop when we’re young, for them to be healthy for our lives, for them to perform to their maximum potential, which I think we all want, and for us to maintain our cognitive abilities as we age.”
Addressing a gap in the market
The two founders recognized the need to raise awareness about the importance of brain nutrition and discovered that parents of young children were particularly receptive to the idea of brain health. This insight guided their decision to focus initially on developing products for children, leveraging an existing market segment. By doing so, they aimed to educate parents and caregivers about the critical role nutrition plays in brain development.
Today, Brainiac Foods is leading innovation through science in the cognitive nutrition category, which can often be fraught with pseudoscience and herbs. Everything the brand does is guided by their Science and Nutrition Advisory Board, neurologists, nutritionists, dieticians and people from academia that have done the clinical work to understand what nutrition is important for brain health.
“That’s really where the magic of the company is,” said Brooks. “We are doing things with food science that’s never been done before. Putting a high amount of incredibly fragile ingredients into foods that are able to be thrown into a lunchbox and taste great every time. As dads to three each, we know the impact this has for families.”
Brainiac’s line of products are available across the country with partners like Walmart, Whole Foods, CVS and Thrive Market as well as super regionals like Meijer, Wegmans, Publiz and Raley’s, and offer these critical brain nutrients in a wide variety of formats from applesauce and nut butters to fruit and veggie pouches and supplements. The products provide different tools for families to get these nutrients in a way that’s easy, accessible and affordable. In each applesauce pouch, there’s as much Omega-3s as a kid’s serving of salmon and as much choline as two cups of broccoli.
Tips for better brain health
There are several ways we can improve our brain health, starting with the idea that you are what you eat. So their message is to pay attention to your diet, as nutrition plays a critical role in brain development, health and performance, by incorporating brain-boosting nutrients such as omega-3 DHA, choline and lutein. The founders also shared recommendations for other things that we can be doing to boost our brain health, which include:
- Getting enough sleep and maintaining good sleep hygiene to allow our brains to clean out oxidative materials.
- Staying socially active and engaged as you age.
- Engage in mentally stimulating activities, such as puzzles, reading or learning new skills, to challenge and exercise your brain.
- Practice stress-reducing techniques such as mindfulness, meditation or engaging in activities you enjoy.
- Protect your brain from potential injuries by wearing appropriate safety gear during activities that pose a risk of head trauma.
- Stay mentally and emotionally balanced by maintaining a positive mindset, managing emotions effectively and seeking support when needed.
- Stay informed about new research and developments in brain health to incorporate the latest knowledge into your daily routine.