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Smart Food: The 10 Best Foods for Brain Health

Smart Food: The 10 Best Foods for Brain Health

Ever heard the phrase “you are what you eat”? This saying is a distillation of centuries of scientific research in health, nutrition, and our genes. 


The food we eat doesn’t just impact physical attributes like our weight and appearance. The nutrition we receive from our food gets digested and turned into energy, but it also contributes significantly to building the structural elements of our body that keep us healthy and active long-term.    

 

One of the most important structural elements of the human body is our brain. It uses a significant portion of our energy to stay functional and alert, and without good fuel, it can quickly turn dull and sluggish, making it harder to focus or think clearly.

 

The best foods for brain health have been shown to help stave off cognitive decline by keeping mental function strong. They do this in a variety of ways. Some foods help increase blood flow to the brain, while others improve cell connections or limit oxidation, inflammation, and other stressors that stop the brain from functioning optimally.

 

So, what should you eat if you want to boost your brain function and protect the health of this important organ long-term? Read on to find out more.


Which Foods Are Good for the Brain?

There are a variety of foods that keep the brain healthy. Today, we’ll explore 10 of our favorite foods for brain health, and show you why they’re so beneficial. Most of them are a natural part of any healthy, whole-grain and plant-based diet.


1. Fatty Fish

Fatty and oily fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, a key component of healthy brain function from birth until old age. These omega-3s are key to developing healthy cell membranes, which help to facilitate communication between brain cells. The more connected our brain cells are, the easier it is to learn new things, exercise our memory, and much more.

 

Some of the most popular sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, cod, pollack, and tuna.


2. Eggs 

Eggs are very nutritious and can be prepared in a huge variety of ways. They’re rich in B vitamins, as well as the nutrients choline and lutein, which contribute to the creation of neurotransmitters, which help facilitate cognitive function.

 

Choline cannot be produced by our body, so it must come from our diet. It’s estimated that the vast majority of Americans don’t receive enough choline, which can impact cognition especially as we age. 


Most choline and lutein are found in the egg yolk, so even if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s important to consume whole eggs often to help boost brain function.  


3. Blueberries

Blueberries are delicious, and thankfully they’re rich in brain-boosting antioxidants, too. Antioxidants help cut down on oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, which limits the damage that can eventually compound into neurodegenerative diseases. Studies have shown that blueberries can help create more cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that’s responsible for memory.


They taste delicious eaten plain, or mixed into whole-grain baked goods like muffins, pancakes, or quick breads.


4. Leafy Greens

There are tons of different important vitamins in leafy green vegetables, the most popular of which are spinach and kale. Some of these vitamins, like lutein, can be found in other popular brain foods like eggs. Others, like folate, beta carotene, and vitamin K, are found most frequently in these vegetables, making them an important part of any healthy diet.

 

Vitamin K in particular helps to improve the retention of energy-boosting fat inside brain cells, leading to improvements in memory and other critical types of cognition.

 

5. Broccoli

Broccoli contains many of the same vitamins as leafy green vegetables, but it’s also rich in a group of unique compounds called glucosinolates. 


These compounds, which can be found in other cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts and cabbage, get processed by the body into a substance that reduces oxidative stress in the brain. This helps to lower an individual’s risk of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.


6. Nuts

Two of the most important nuts you should be eating for better brain health include almonds and hazelnuts. These delicious nuts are rich in vitamin E and contain some of the same types of omega-3 fatty acids as fish, which help to improve brain function.

 

Vitamin E has been studied for its impact on Alzheimer’s disease, and doctors have found positive correlations between a higher intake of vitamin E and a lower risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

 

If you’re allergic to these nuts or can’t afford this pricey snack on a regular basis, some of the same benefits can be found in sunflower seeds or peanuts.


7. Green tea

The caffeine in tea and coffee has a positive effect on short-term alertness and concentration, but it’s also been studied extensively for its role in long-term mental function. Johns Hopkins University researchers have found that caffeine helps to solidify new memories, and it’s also been shown to help us process information faster.

 

Green tea is a great vehicle for your daily caffeine consumption because it also contains plenty of antioxidants, along with caffeine. It’s also been shown to help boost metabolism, which may help some people lose weight.


8. Turmeric

If you don’t cook traditional Indian food often, you may not have come across turmeric before. Turmeric has been a popular spice and medicinal herb for centuries and is prized for its ability to reduce inflammation and oxidation throughout the body.


The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which blocks a key molecule that contributes to our body’s inflammatory response to stress and other negative stimuli. This helps keep the brain functioning at its highest capacity, and limits risks for brain diseases.


9. Peppers

Colorful bell peppers are rich in vitamin C, which is an essential nutrient that’s critical to cognitive performance. Without vitamin C, our bodies will struggle with a myriad of brain-related tasks, including processing emotion, reaction, and cognition. One single red bell pepper contains 169% of our daily recommended intake of vitamin C.


Colorful bell peppers are rich in vitamin C, which is an essential nutrient that’s critical to cognitive performance. Without vitamin C, our bodies will struggle with a myriad of brain-related tasks, including processing emotion, reaction, and cognition. One single red bell pepper contains 169% of our daily recommended intake of vitamin C.


10. Fruit 

Fruit is a delicious part of a healthy diet. Make sure you’re eating plenty of fruit like oranges, kiwis, lychees, persimmons, papayas, and strawberries, which are all extremely rich in vitamin C. Eating just one orange can give you almost 80% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C. Plus, they have plenty of fiber and other critical vitamins necessary for a healthy brain and body.


Explore New Foods for a Healthier Brain with GenoPalate

If you’re looking for an easy, versatile, and healthy side dish, couscous is a great choice. It’s available widely, and can be prepared in less than five minutes. It’s also low in fat, and rich in vitamins like calcium, selenium, and iron.


However, it’s important to remember that couscous is still largely made up of carbohydrates. It should be eaten in moderation, and preferably with a side of vegetables and lean protein.

 

Want to learn more about how different foods can shape your eating habits? Learn about the best foods for your unique genetic makeup with a GenoPalate DNA test today.

Photo of Kelly Van Gorden

Medically reviewed by:

Kelly Van Gorden, MS, RD, CD

Kelly Van Gorden is a registered dietitian from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the spring of 2011 and completed her dietetic internship and Master of Science degree from the University of Central Oklahoma in the fall of 2012. Kelly has a strong foundation in both clinical nutrition and the wellness community, and believes we can all live happier, healthier lives with the power of food. In her spare time she enjoys staying active, trying out new recipes, and keeping up to date on her favorite podcasts.

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