The foods we eat have a major impact on our brain health and function. And as the control center of our body, it’s imperative that we keep our brains in peak working condition. The brain uses around 20% of the body’s calories, and it requires specific nutrients to stay healthy. Omega-3, for example, helps build and repair brain cells. If you want to improve your cognitive skills, as well as overall brain health, adding brain healthy foods to your diet is key. So, here are the best brain healthy foods you can add to your diet for both short-term benefits (like increased concentration for studying) and long-term benefits (such as Alzheimer’s prevention).
Best Brain Healthy Foods:
Brain healthy foods contain specific components that support brain health. The most common components found in brain healthy foods are omega-3 and other healthful fats, b vitamins, lutein and antioxidants like flavonoids and vitamin E.
Walnuts are one of the best brain healthy foods because they’re a great source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. This helps with preserving memory and preventing cognitive decline. Studies have shown walnuts can also improve concentration, memory, brain processing speed, general cognitive test scores, and brain cell growth and communication.
Other nuts to eat include:
If you’re studying for a test or planning a big project, keep a handful of walnuts close by!
2. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate contains cacao (cocoa). Cacao contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants are essential to brain health, as they help reduce oxidative stress, and risk of brain disease.
One study in 2013 found that the flavonoids in dark chocolate may encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in the areas of the brain associated with memory and learning. They can also help stimulate blood flow in the brain.
Using imaging methods, researchers also found that dark chocolate with 70% cacao could improve brain plasticity, which is important for learning and even rewiring the brain.
When you feel a sweet tooth coming on, opt for brain healthy dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao.
Avocados are not only delicious, they are extremely nutritious. Avocados are filled with unsaturated fats, fiber and lutein, which can improve cognitive health. Also, high blood pressure is linked to cognitive decline, and eating unsaturated fats may can help reduce blood pressure. According to one study, people who ate one fresh avocado a day saw a major improvement in their memory and problem-solving abilities.
Instead of “An apple a day”, it should be, “An avocado a day, keeps the doctor away!”
4. Green Tea
Green tea is one of the best brain healthy “foods” for nearly every aspect of brain health.
Firstly, it boosts brain functions, like alertness, performance, focus and memory.
Secondly, it contains L-theanine (an amino acid that can increase the neurotransmitter GABA), which helps reduce anxiety and improve mood. L-theanine also improves alpha wave frequencies, which stimulates you and gives you energy—but, unlike most caffeinated drinks, it also relaxes you at the same time.
Lastly, green tea is filled with polyphenols and antioxidants that can help protect the brain from mental decline, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Try swapping out 1 coffee for 1 green tea a day. The caffeine boosts alertness, the antioxidants protect the brain, and the L-thiamine helps you relax. It’s the perfect potion for ninja-like focus!
5. Wild Salmon
When it comes to the brain healthy foods, salmon is always at the top of the list. Salmon and other fatty fish, are rich in omega-3, which is a key building block of the brain. About 60% of our brain consists of fats, and half of that fat consists of omega-3 fats! So, you can’t miss out on omega-3 rich foods like salmon.
Furthermore, fatty fish helps build the brain and nerve cells that are necessary for memory and learning. It also helps ward off age-related mental decline and disease.
Salmon can even effect the brain matter itself. According to one study, people who ate fatty fish regularly had more gray matter in their brain—which contains the nerve cells involved in decision making, emotion and focus.
On the other hand, not getting enough omega-3 is associated with depression and learning impairments.
Other fish to eat include:
Omega-3 is essential to both cognitive function and mental health. Try to eat fatty fish twice a week for brain health. Omega-3 supplements are also available.
Commonly referred to as “brainberries”, blueberries contain flavonoids that help memory, and anthocyanins that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. A study at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that participants that consumed two or more servings of blueberries and strawberries every week saw a delay in age-relate memory decline by up to 2.5 years. Blueberries also help with preventing oxidative stress and neurodegenerative diseases.
Furthermore, some of the antioxidants in blueberries have been shown to gather in the brain and improve brain cell communication.
Try to eat 1 cup of blueberries a day—fresh, frozen, or freeze-dried. Sprinkle over cereal or oatmeal. Or even cover them with melted dark chocolate for double the brain boost!
Eggs are a great source of many brain healthy nutrients, including vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate and choline.
B vitamins are indispensable, and play several roles in brain and nervous system function. They help your cells communicate and produce energy. They help your body with reading genetic code, so you can function optimally.
They’re also needed in the formation of healthy red blood cells.
Additionally, B vitamins help prevent brain shrinkage and slow age-related decline.
On the contrary, vitamin B and folate deficiency have been linked to depression.
Choline is a micronutrient that your body needs to in order to grow acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate memory and mood. Studies have found higher choline intake to be associated with better memory and cognitive function.
Unfortunately, most people don’t get enough choline in their diet though. The recommend dose of choline is 425mg per day for women, and 550mg for men. Just one egg contains 112mg. Eggs yolks are one of the most concentrated sources of choline (necessary for mood and memory regulation), so eating them is one of the best ways to meet your intake.
Eat and egg or two in the morning to start you day with mood boosting vitamins.
8. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain potent antioxidants that protect the brain and body against free radical damage. They are also a great source of zinc, magnesium, copper and iron—each of which is important to brain health.
Zinc is vital for nerve signaling, and zinc deficiency has been connected to several neurological conditions, including depression and Alzheimer’s.
Magnesium is crucial for memory and learning, and low magnesium levels are linked to multiple neurological diseases, including epilepsy, migraines and depression.
Iron deficiency is associated with brain fog and diminished brain function.
Copper is used by the brain to control nerve signals. When copper levels aren’t at the right level, your chances of developing neurodegenerative disorders go up.
Other seeds to eat for brain health include:
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
Pumpkin seeds are one of the best brain healthy foods because they contain so many of the micronutrients needed for brain longevity and mental health.
Curcumin (found in turmeric) can help improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s. It may also help remove the amyloid plaques that are a characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin also boosts serotonin and dopamine levels, which improves mood and motivation.
One study even found that curcumin could improve depression symptoms just as much as an antidepressant!
Additionally, it increases the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a growth hormone that helps brain cells grow.
Turmeric makes the “best brain healthy foods” list for its superior anti-inflammatory effects.
10. Greek Yogurt
The vitamins and minerals in Greek yogurt help relieve stress and provide energy to the brain and body. Furthermore, studies suggest that probiotics (found in foods with active cultures) can help protect against cognitive decline and age-related memory loss. Not to mention, probiotics are important for gut health, and the gut and brain have been found to be directly connected.
Instead of going for ice cream, try Greek yogurt topped with a handful of granola or fresh berries. It will help support your brain energy, unlike ice cream, which depletes it.AD
Oats contain soluble fiber, which removes cholesterol and prevents plaque from building up in the arteries. Clear arteries help ensure that the blood is flowing properly, which can help reduce the risk of stroke or dementia. Oatmeal is also one of the best brain foods because it contains plenty of vitamin E.
It’s also a staple in the Mediterranean diet—a diet that’s been shown to improve cognition.
Other whole grains to eat include:
- brown rice
- whole-grain bread
- whole-grain pasta
Oatmeal is not only brain healthy, it also boosts long-term energy and keeps you full longer.
If energy is what you’re looking for, check out these 23 power snacks that are sure to keep your energy up!
Broccoli is one of the best brain healthy foods because it contains powerful plant compounds, and enough vitamin k to meet your recommended daily intake with just 1 cup. Vitamin k is necessary for developing sphingolipids, a type of fat that is tightly compacted into brain cells. And studies have connected higher vitamin k intake to enhanced memory.
Pairing broccoli with wild salmon and brown rice for lunch can help keep your brain working through the afternoon slump!
Like broccoli, kale is another cruciferous vegetable with plenty of brain boosting benefits. This is because dark greens are the most powerful source of lutein—which has been shown to have positive effects on multiple brain functions. Eating just one serving of green vegetables a day can help slow cognitive decline as you age.
Other dark leafy greens to eat:
- brussels sprouts
- bok choy
Like blueberries and avocados, kale is also considered a super food, so you can’t go wrong by adding a little to your diet.
Vitamin C plays a major role in preventing mental decline. Luckily, just one orange is enough to meet your daily intake. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that fights off free radicals that can damage your brain cells. It also helps defend against Alzheimer’s.
Other vitamin C fruits to eat include:
- bell peppers
Several studies have found that coffee boosts concentration, mood, alertness, energy levels, reaction time and general mental function. It may even help with solidifying new long and short-term memories. A study at Johns Hopkins University did a study on two groups, where one group took a caffeine tablet, and one group took a placebo, and proceeded to study a set of images. The following day, the group who took the caffeine tablets correctly identified more images than the placebo group, suggesting that caffeine helped participants solidify new memories better.
In the long run, drinking coffee is also associated with reduced risk of neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s—most likely due to its high levels of antioxidants.
If you need to focus, learn something new, or study something really important, coffee may just be the perfect companion. Especially when you’re in a pinch.
Eating brain healthy foods is essential to both brain function and brain health. Incorporating the 15 brain foods above will help support your brain health, cognitive skills and mood.
Aside from adjusting diet, one can also enhance their brain function by:
- Staying hydrated
- Not over or under eating
- Sleeping 7-9 hours a night
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing alcohol and drug use
- Regularly reducing stress through practices like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises