These healthy foods are the best foods for brain health. Add them to your shopping list and eat up!
Our brains are incredibly powerful organs. They use about 20 percent of our bodies calories each day, so it is important to fuel them properly.
Recent research shows there is likely a link between diet and cognitive decline or developing dementia later in life. Several studies illustrate the benefit of following a Mediterranean style diet to reduce cognitive decline and risk of dementia. There is also promising research for the MIND Diet. This diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean Diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
These three eating patterns have a few things in common. First, they focus on eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Also, these eating patterns limit intake of saturated fat, red meat, processed foods, and sugar.
Best Foods for Brain Health
While a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats is very healthy overall and helps prevent disease, there are some specific foods to focus on for brain health. These foods contain nutrients that are essential for our brains to stay sharp and function well. These foods will help protect your brain from inflammation, aging, and cognitive decline!
1. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are full of important nutrients that benefit our brains, including vitamins E and K, lutein, nitrates, and folate. A recent study found that eating 1 serving of leafy greens per day was associated with slower cognitive decline (6). Fill up on all the spinach, kale, collard greens, and arugula!
Here are some leafy green recipes to try:
- Kale quinoa salad with fall roasted vegetables
- Shredded brussels sprouts salad with kale and apples
- Creamy High Protein Mushroom and Spinach Pasta
Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries…they are all some of the best fruits for brain health! Berries are rich in antioxidants, which combat free radical damage and inflammation in our cells. One review suggests that berries may slow down or reduce the severity of changes in the brain and disease development associated with aging (7). Berries are also low in sugar and high in fiber, making them great for digestion and satiety, too.
Here are some berry recipes to try:
- Healthy Peach Blueberry Crisp
- Berry Banana Baked Oatmeal with Chocolate Chips
- Whole Grain Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips, Cranberries, and Blueberries
3. Salmon and Fatty Fish
You’ve probably heard that salmon and fatty fish are good for us. They seem to be particularly important for brain health, though. Salmon and fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which our bodies cannot produce themselves. A 2016 study found an association between eating seafood once per week and slower decline in multiple cognitive domains (8).
The same effect may not be true of fish oil supplements. One notable study found no difference in cognitive function between participants taking fish oil supplements and those not taking them (9). I recommend eating sustainable, wild caught seafood at least once a week to ensure you reap the brain health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are some salmon and fatty fish recipes to try:
Vegan and vegetarian friends, you’re in luck! You do not need to consume fish to get brain health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts are a good plant based source of omega-3 fatty acids, but they are a different form than the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. But, one recent study found that our bodies convert the form in walnuts (ALA) to the more beneficial forms of omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA (10). We just might need to eat a little more of the plant based forms to get the benefits!
Here are some walnut recipes to try:
- Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal
- Farro Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Feta Cheese
- Almond Butter Zucchini Bread with Chocolate Chips
5. Coffee and Tea
Yes, you can continue drinking you morning cup of jo! Coffee and tea both contain caffeine, which might be important for brain health. Caffeine may improve several aspects of brain health, including short-term memory, reaction time, learning, and mood.
One review found that caffeine may be associated with reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia (10). In one of the studies included in review, drinking 3-5 cups a day was even beneficial!
To sum it all up, fill your plate with nourishing vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and even a little caffeine, and your brain will thank you!