As the command center for your body, your brain plays a critical role in the processes that keep you functioning each day. Impulses from your brain keep you breathing, regulate your body temperature, and allow you to think, move, and feel. Providing your brain with the nutrients it needs for healthy function keeps you alert, active, and robust. It only makes sense that you should provide your brain with the very best nutrients in order to strengthen your body and promote memory and learning. The following are wholesome foods that can help boost brain health.
15. Fatty Fish
Fish are often the first foods that come to mind when brain health is discussed. The healthy omega-3 fatty acids contained in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring are well-known brain boosters. These fatty acids are critical components of cell membranes and also demonstrate anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, a study in Neurology reports that elderly individuals who consume seafood at least once each week show less mental decline than their counterparts who do not eat seafood. Grill up some salmon, mix up a tasty tuna salad, or toss a few anchovies on your whole wheat pizza.
Colorful red raspberries, vibrant blueberries, and vivid blackberries are rich in nutrients. They also contain antioxidant phytochemicals that prevent free radicals from damaging your cells. A study in Neural Regeneration Research indicates that berries can improve brain health by preventing age-related declines of neuron function in the brain. This effect may be due to decreased oxidative stress from free radicals and anti-inflammatory effects. The study also suggests that brain health may be improved by enhanced communication between brain cells or by increased neuron-protective proteins in the brain.
13. Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Powder
If you are a fan of chocolate, you will be pleased to know that dark chocolate and cocoa powder are foods that may improve brain health. Enjoying a square of dark chocolate may not only sweeten your mood, but studies suggest it may also improve your memory and understanding. Tufts University reports that the flavonoids in cocoa powder may improve understanding by increasing blood flow in the brain. Therefore, sipping a cup of cocoa or adding a scoop of cocoa powder to your power smoothie may help keep your brain sharp.
12. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds contain fiber, protein, and the fatty acids that promote brain health. Walnuts are particularly high in the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA may help fight inflammation and prevent degeneration of brain cells. Studies suggest that a diet containing walnuts may help prevent mental decline. Other nuts also provide protection to the brain and nervous system. In addition, seeds such as pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, and sunflower seeds can provide important brain-protective nutrients and healthy fats.
11. Leafy Greens
Kale, spinach, and other leafy greens are rich sources of antioxidants and plant polyphenols. The journal Neurology reports that consuming at least one serving of leafy greens each day may help prevent dementia and mental decline in the elderly. One serving is equal to about one cup of these leafy green veggies. Toss a handful of spinach into a blender with fresh fruit and a dollop of Greek yogurt for a morning dose of greens. Enjoy a leafy romaine lettuce salad sprinkled with blueberries and walnuts for a lunchtime brain-boosting meal.
10. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes contain several B vitamins important for healthy brain function. According to the Cleveland Clinic, B vitamins improve communication between brain cells by boosting the production of neurotransmitters. If you aren’t accustomed to eating a lot of beans, start slowly by introducing about ½ cup of beans to your diet each day. Beans and legumes come in a variety of tasty options including black beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and pinto beans. Include beans in hearty soups or stews, add them to salads, or mix up a tasty hummus to enjoy with veggies.
Broccoli, with its rich, green hue, is another great source of dietary fiber, plant phenols, and antioxidants. Furthermore, broccoli contains vitamin K, which studies suggest may play a role in the synthesis of sphingolipids in the brain. In fact, one study presents a link between low intake of vitamin K and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. You can enjoy your broccoli roasted, sautéed, or served raw with a light dressing or dollop of hummus.
8. Concord Grapes
Concord grapes may improve your memory and help with better brain performance. Previous studies have demonstrated that red grape juice can improve memory skills in laboratory rats. However, rats aren’t the only creatures who may benefit from the brain-boosting effects of Concord grapes. A study in the European Journal of Nutrition found that drinking red grape juice had positive effects on both mood and memory in healthy, young adults. If you are fortunate enough to live where fresh Concord grapes are readily available, you can enjoy them by the handful. Otherwise, look for sugar-free juices made from these grapes.
7. Olive Oil
Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and may prevent the degeneration of brain cells and tissues through anti-inflammatory processes. Studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can improve memory performance in mice. EVOO may protect the brain by both decreasing inflammation and preventing oxidative stress. You can add olive oil to your diet by using it to make salad dressings. You can also use brush olive oil on salmon or vegetables when roasting them in the oven.
A fear of cholesterol has turned many people away from eggs. However, in moderation, eggs can be enjoyed as a great source of protein and nutrients. Egg yolks contain choline, a nutrient that plays a role in memory and brain function. One study suggests that individuals who consume more choline have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. Eggs are a versatile food that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. You can scramble up some eggs with veggies, bake them into a frittata, or serve them on whole-wheat toast.
Coffee is rich in antioxidants. Therefore, sipping a cup of joe can not only wake you up to face the day, but may also improve your memory and concentration skills. An abstract from Practical Neurology suggests that coffee consumption is linked to a decreased risk of stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. While plain coffee may improve your mental abilities, doctoring it up with cream and sugar presents other health issues. Enjoy your coffee black to receive the maximum health benefit.
4. Green Tea
Green tea is another beverage that is rich in antioxidants, plant polyphenols, and the brain-boosting effects of those substances. Furthermore, green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that supports critical brain chemicals. For a variation on green tea, try this recipe for Citrus-Honey Green Tea at Allrecipes. It calls for green tea powder, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, and honey.
Curcumin, the component of turmeric that imparts its characteristic golden yellow color, may protect brain health through its antioxidant effects. Some studies suggest this ancient Indian spice may be helpful in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Check out Bon Appetit’s recipe for Coconut-Ginger Chickpea Soup. Brain-boosting turmeric, chickpeas, and lentils come together with raisins, onion, and coconut milk to make a tasty, filling soup.
Oatmeal is a nutritious food packed with fiber, whole grains, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. As such, it fills your tummy and provides the nutrients needed to keep you healthy and active. Support your brain by enjoying a morning bowl of oatmeal topped with blueberries and almonds. Or bake up a batch of these Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies by Two Peas & Their Pod.
Oranges are well known for their vitamin C content. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that prevents the body from damage caused by cellular free radicals. This vitamin also protects the body by preventing inflammation. These benefits translate into protection for brain cells as well. With its own protective packaging, an orange makes an easy, portable snack to grab before heading out the door.