Your brain is like a sponge, soaking up not only the information around you on a daily basis but also the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals in the food you eat. The more you eat a diet based on whole, healthy foods, the more your brainpower will soar, even to the point of staving off age-related cognitive decline and other brain disorders. While eating real foods is key, there are some superstars that stand above the rest.
By planning your meals to include the brain-boosting foods that follow, you’ll be providing the fuel your brain needs to not only stay healthy in the future but also function optimally today, bringing with it increased productivity, focus and a creative edge.
Six Top Brain-Boosting Foods to Include in Your Diet
Small cold-water fish that are rich in animal-based omega-3 fats but have a low risk of contamination are among your best choices for healthy fish. This includes anchovies, sardines, mackerel, herring and wild-caught Alaskan salmon. The omega-3 they contain is vital to your brain, helping to fight inflammation and offer numerous protections to your brain cells.
For instance, a study in the journal Neurology found “older women with the highest levels of omega-3 fats … had better preservation of their brain as they aged than those with the lowest levels, which might mean they would maintain better brain function for an extra year or two.” In separate research, when boys were given an omega-3 supplement, there were significant increases in the activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex part of the brain.
This is an area of your brain associated with working memory. They also noticed changes in other parts of the brain, including the occipital cortex (the visual processing center) and the cerebellar cortex (which plays a role in motor control). In addition, older adults with memory complaints who consumed the omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alone or in combination with another omega-3 fat eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), had improved memory.
Consuming healthy fish once a week or more is even linked to a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with rarely or never consuming it. If you don’t like fish, you can alsoget animal-based omega-3 fats in therapeutic doses by taking a supplement like krill oil. But if you’re looking for a dietarysource, the healthy fish named above are among the best sources.
Cruciferous Veggies and Leafy Greens
Eating just one serving of green leafy vegetables a day may help to slow cognitive decline associated with aging, helping you to be 11 years younger, cognitively speaking, than your non-leafy green-eating peers. They’re a rich source of brain-protective nutrients like folate, vitamins E and K, lutein and beta-carotene.
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, are equally impressive, in part because they’re good sources of choline, a B vitamin known for its role in brain development.
Choline intake during pregnancy “super-charged” the brain activity of animals in utero, indicating that it may boost cognitive function, improve learning and memory and even diminish age-related memory decline and the brain’s vulnerability to toxins during childhood, as well as confer protection later in life. Pastured organic eggs and grass fed meat are other good food sources of choline.
Broccoli offers additional benefits as well, including the anti-inflammatory flavonoid kaempferol and three glucosinolate phytonutrients that work together to support your body’s detoxification processes. In another study, women who ate the most cruciferous vegetables or leafy greens had slower cognitive decline than those eating the least, to the point that their brain function equaled that of someone one to two years younger.
Pastured, organic eggs, particularly the yolks, provide valuable vitamins (A, D, E and K), omega-3 fats and antioxidants. They’re also one of the best sources of choline available. Choline helps keep your cell membranes functioning properly, plays a role in nerve communications and reduces chronic inflammation. Choline is also needed for your body to make the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is involved in storing memories.
In pregnant women, choline plays an equally, if not more, important role, helping to prevent certain birth defects, such as spina bifida, and playing a role in brain development. In addition, people with higher choline intakes were shown to have better cognitive performance, doing better on tests of verbal and visual memory, than those with low intake.
According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, only 8 percent of U.S. adults are getting enough choline (including only 8.5 percent of pregnant women).
Among egg consumers, however, more than 57 percent met the adequate intake (AI) levels for choline, compared to just 2.4 percent of people who consumed no eggs. In fact, the researchers concluded that it’s “extremely difficult” to get enough choline unless you eat eggs or take a dietary supplement.
Some of the symptoms associated with low choline levels include memory problems and persistent brain fog. Your body can only synthesize small amounts of this nutrient, so you need to get it from your diet regularly. One egg yolk contains nearly 215 mg of choline.
Increased coffee (and tea) consumption was linked to a lower risk of glioma brain tumor, such that people in the top category of coffee consumption were 91 percent less likely to have glioma compared with those in the bottom category.
It may help your brain function as well, with research showing that drinking one to two cups of coffee daily may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, cognitive decline and cognitive impairment compared to drinking less than one cup.
Drinking coffee may even enhance long-term memory consolidation and, if you drink the caffeinated variety, improve attention and alertness while decreasing your risk of depression.Caffeine can be a double-edged sword, with excess consumption causing adverse effects, and everyone’s tolerance to caffeine is unique.
However, most people naturally adjust their coffee consumption to avoid the jittery feeling that comes from too much caffeine. Ideally, coffee should be organic and shade-grown; drink it black or with added coconut oil or medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil.
Wine (One Glass)
Limited wine intake—one glass a day or no more than seven drinks a week—has been found to protective against dementia in later life.16 Part of the benefit likely comes from the catechin epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), found in red wine and tea, which has been found to stop beta-amyloid proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease from killing brain cells.
Resveratrol is another compound in red wine linked to brain benefits, including protecting the neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) between neurons. Resveratrol may also help to restore the blood-brain barrier in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, which could help keep out unwanted immune molecules that can worsen brain inflammation and kill neurons.
Even Champagne contains beneficial compounds, including relatively high amounts of phenolic acids, that appear to have a neuroprotective effect against oxidative neuronal injury.20 It’s important to note that only a small amount of alcohol may be beneficial, and excess amounts are toxic to your brain.
Blueberries are rich in phytochemicals linked to improvements in learning, thinking and memory, along with reductions in neurodegenerative oxidative stress. They’re also relatively low in fructose compared to other fruits, making them one of the healthier fruits available. Wild blueberries, which have high anthocyanin and antioxidant content, are known to guard against Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
Wild blueberries have even been shown to reduce some of the effects of a poor diet (such as high blood pressure systemic inflammation). In an animal study, wild blueberries reduced the proinflammatory effects of a poor diet as well as prevented high blood pressure, which would be beneficial for your brain health.
Further, women who consumed at least a half-cup of blueberries a week for 15 years had slower cognitive decline than women who did not, with researchers noting, “berry intake appears to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.”22
The Beach Is Good for Your Brain Health Too
It’s not only what you eat that matters to your brain — your environment matters, too. Interestingly, one of the most restorative environments for your brain, according to research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, is the beach.