Best Foods to Boost Your Brain and Memory
1. Fatty Fish
When people talk about brain foods, fatty fish is often at the top of the list.
This type of fish includes salmon, trout and sardines, which are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids
About 60% of your brain is made of fat, and half of that fat is the omega-3 kind
Your brain uses omega-3s to build brain and nerve cells, and these fats are essential for learning and memory
Omega 3-s also have a couple additional benefits for your brain.
For one thing, they may slow age-related mental decline and help ward off Alzheimer’s disease
On the flip side, not getting enough omega-3s is linked to learning impairments, as well as depression
In general, eating fish seems to have positive health benefits.
One study found that people who ate baked or broiled fish regularly had more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter contains most of the nerve cells that control decision making, memory and emotion
Overall, fatty fish is an excellent choice for brain health.
SUMMARY:Fatty fish is a rich source of omega-3s, a major building block of the brain. Omega-3s play a role in sharpening memory and improving mood, as well as protecting your brain against decline.
If coffee is the highlight of your morning, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s good for you.
Two main components in coffee — caffeine and antioxidants — help your brain.
The caffeine in coffee has a number of positive effects on the brain, including
- Increased alertness: Caffeine keeps your brain alert by blocking adenosine, a chemical messenger that makes you sleepy
- Improved mood: Caffeine may also boost some of your “feel-good” neurotransmitters, such as serotonin
- Sharpened concentration: One study found that when participants drank one large coffee in the morning or smaller amounts throughout the day, they were more effective at tasks that required concentration (14).
Drinking coffee over the long term is also linked to a reduced risk of neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
This could at least be partly due to coffee’s high concentration of antioxidants
SUMMARY:Coffee can help boost alertness and mood. It may also offer some protection against Alzheimer’s, thanks to its caffeine and antioxidants.
Blueberries provide numerous health benefits, including some that are specifically for your brain.
Blueberries and other deeply colored berries deliver anthocyanins, a group of plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
Antioxidants act against both oxidative stress and inflammation, conditions that may contribute to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases
Some of the antioxidants in blueberries have been found to accumulate in the brain and help improve communication between brain cells
Animal studies have shown that blueberries help improve memory and may even delay short-term memory loss
Try sprinkling them on your breakfast cereal or adding them to a smoothie.
SUMMARY:Blueberries are packed with antioxidants that may delay brain aging and improve memory.
Turmeric has generated a lot of buzz recently.
This deep-yellow spice is a key ingredient in curry powder and has a number of benefits for the brain.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning it can directly enter the brain and benefit the cells there
It’s a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that has been linked to the following brain benefits:
- May benefit memory: Curcumin may help improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s. It may also help clear the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of this disease
- Eases depression: It boosts serotonin and dopamine, which both improve mood. One study found curcumin improved depression symptoms just as much as an antidepressant over six weeks
- Helps new brain cells grow: Curcumin boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a type of growth hormone that helps brain cells grow. It may help delay age-related mental decline, but more research is needed
To reap the benefits of curcumin, try cooking with curry powder, adding turmeric to potato dishes to turn them golden or making turmeric tea.
SUMMARY:Turmeric and its active compound curcumin have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, which help the brain. In research, it has reduced symptoms of depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Broccoli is packed with powerful plant compounds, including antioxidants
It’s also very high in vitamin K, delivering more than 100% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) in a 1-cup (91-gram) serving
This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for forming sphingolipids, a type of fat that’s densely packed into brain cells
A few studies in older adults have linked a higher vitamin K intake to better memory
Beyond vitamin K, broccoli contains a number of compounds that give it anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which may help protect the brain against damage
SUMMARY:Broccoli contains a number of compounds that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, including vitamin K.
6. Pumpkin Seed
Pumpkin seeds contain powerful antioxidants that protect the body and brain from free radical damage
They’re also an excellent source of magnesium, iron, zinc and copper
Each of these nutrients is important for brain health:
- Zinc: This element is crucial for nerve signaling. Zinc deficiency has been linked to many neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, depression and Parkinson’s disease
- Magnesium: Magnesium is essential for learning and memory. Low magnesium levels are linked to many neurological diseases, including migraines, depression and epilepsy .
- Copper: Your brain uses copper to help control nerve signals. And when copper levels are out of whack, there’s a higher risk of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s
- Iron: Iron deficiency is often characterized by brain fog and impaired brain function
The research focuses mostly on these micronutrients, rather than pumpkin seeds themselves. However, since pumpkin seeds are high in these micronutrients, you can likely reap their benefits by adding pumpkin seeds to your diet.
SUMMARY:Pumpkin seeds are rich in many micronutrients that are important for brain function, including copper, iron, magnesium and zinc.
7. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are packed with a few brain-boosting compounds, including flavonoids, caffeine and antioxidants.
Flavonoids are a group of antioxidant plant compounds.
The flavonoids in chocolate gather in the areas of the brain that deal with learning and memory. Researchers say these compounds may enhance memory and also help slow down age-related mental decline
In fact, a number of studies back this up
In one study including over 900 people, those who ate chocolate more frequently performed better in a series of mental tasks, including some involving memory, than those who rarely ate it
Chocolate is also a legitimate mood booster, according to research.
One study found that participants who ate chocolate experienced increased positive feelings, compared to participants who ate crackers
However, it’s still not clear whether that’s because of compounds in the chocolate, or simply because the yummy flavor makes people happy
Research has shown that eating nuts can improve markers of heart health, and having a healthy heart is linked to having a healthy brain
A 2014 review showed that nuts can improve cognition and even help prevent neurodegenerative diseases
Also, another large study found that women who ate nuts regularly over the course of several years had a sharper memory, compared to those who didn’t eat nuts
Several nutrients in nuts, such as healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamin E, may explain their brain-health benefits
Vitamin E shields cell membranes from free radical damage, helping slow mental decline
While all nuts are good for your brain, walnuts may have an extra edge, since they also deliver omega-3 fatty acids
SUMMARY:Nuts contain a host of brain-boosting nutrients, including vitamin E, healthy fats and plant compounds.
You can get all the vitamin C you need in a day by eating one medium orange
Doing so is important for brain health, since vitamin C is a key factor in preventing mental decline
Eating sufficient amounts of vitamin C-rich foods can protect against age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2014 review article
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight off the free radicals that can damage brain cells. Plus, vitamin C supports brain health as you age
You can also get excellent amounts of vitamin C from bell peppers, guava, kiwi, tomatoes and strawberries
SUMMARY:Oranges and other foods that are high in vitamin C can help defend your brain against damage from free radicals.
Eggs are a good source of several nutrients tied to brain health, including vitamins B6 and B12, folate and choline
Choline is an important micronutrient that your body uses to create acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and memory
Two studies found that higher intakes of choline were linked to better memory and mental function
Nevertheless, many people don’t get enough choline in their diet.
Eating eggs is an easy way to get choline, given that egg yolks are among the most concentrated sources of this nutrient.
Adequate intake of choline is 425 mg per day for most women and 550 mg per day for men, with just a single egg yolk containing 112 mg
Furthermore, the B vitamins have several roles in brain health.
To start, they may help slow the progression of mental decline in the elderly
Also, being deficient in two types of B vitamins — folate and B12 — has been linked to depression
Folate deficiency is common in elderly people with dementia, and studies show that folic acid supplements can help minimize age-related mental decline
B12 is also involved in synthesizing brain chemicals and regulating sugar levels in the brain
It’s worth noting that there’s very little direct research on the link between eating eggs and brain health. However, there is research to support the brain-boosting benefits of the nutrients found in eggs.
SUMMARY:Eggs are a rich source of several B vitamins and choline, which are important for proper brain functioning and development, as well as regulating mood.
11. Green Tea
As is the case with coffee, the caffeine in green tea boosts brain function.
In fact, it has been found to improve alertness, performance, memory and focus
But green tea also has other components that make it a brain-healthy beverage.
One of them is L-theanine, an amino acid that can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps reduce anxiety and makes you feel more relaxed
L-theanine also increases the frequency of alpha waves in the brain, which helps you relax without making you feel tired
One review found that the L-theanine in green tea can help you relax by counteracting the stimulating effects of caffeine
It’s also rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that may protect the brain from mental decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Plus, green tea has been found to improve memory (79).
SUMMARY:Green tea is an excellent beverage to support your brain. Its caffeine content boosts alertness, while its antioxidants protect the brain and L-theanine helps you relax.