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10 Brain Foods for a Healthy and Young Mind 

Strong evidence suggests that certain brain foods have a neuroprotective effect and may even help prevent dementia. Here’s a list of brain foods to help improve your attention span and memory.

Asian mum chops vegetables while her apron-wearing young daughter helps in the kitchen.

Brain foods may sound like a marketing gimmick, but what you eat is essential to cognitive fitness. Plenty of research shows how a healthy diet and regular physical activity may prevent age-related decline in cognitive function. 

For instance, a study conducted over 16 years among the Taiwanese found that their risk of cognitive decline decreased by 63%. The participants, who were above 53 years old, combined regular physical activity and a high intake of fruits and vegetables. 

Low glycaemic index foods show to have positive effects on attention, memory, and functional capacity. In contrast, foods high in simple sugars can lead to difficulty concentrating and attention. 

A healthy diet has always been essential for preventive healthcare, and science has firmly established that this applies to your body and brain. Discover the brain foods you should incorporate into your diet below. 

The MIND Diet

Nutritionists advise that a healthy diet, not just individual foods, supports your immune system and protects you against chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Diets like the Mediterranean and DASH, which promote healthy ageing and a robust heart, can deliver potential brain-protective benefits, too. 

Scientists combined elements from these two dietary approaches to develop the MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay Diet). It was designed to reduce the risk of dementia and slow down the process of neurodegeneration, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. 

The MIND Diet’s list of brain foods includes:  

  • Vegetables 
  • Nuts 
  • Beans 
  • Whole grains 
  • Berries 
  • Poultry 
  • Fish  
  • Olive oil  


So far, studies show that green leafy vegetables had the most significant neuroprotective effects. 

Foods That Keep Your Brain Young

White wooden surface laden with brain foods like salmon, avocadoes, eggs, and blueberries.
Dr Drew Ramsey, the author of Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, says the best brain foods are seafood, greens, nuts and beans and a little dark chocolate.

Scientists have identified nutrients and compounds that can benefit brain health. Which foods have these nutrients, and how do they impact brain health? Here are a few essential ones. 

1. Fatty fish 

Two servings a week of fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, can provide you with omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA. Omega-3 fat lowers the risk of developing depression and other mood disorders and reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline. 

2. Leafy greens 

Load up on green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli. These contain nutrients like vitamins E, B6 and B9 (folate) that can help regulate the blood’s homocysteine (an amino acid) levels. A continuous supply of amino acids promotes excellent reasoning, learning, and memory.

Greens are also rich in antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin. Antioxidants can help protect the brain from oxidative stress, which occurs when your body produces excess free radicals. Oxidative stress can damage cells and contribute to mental decline.

3. Blueberries  

Flavonoids in blueberries have been shown to improve blood flow to your brain and enhance cognitive function for healthy older adults and those with mild cognitive impairment.

Other berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are also rich in antioxidants. Eat berries fresh or frozen, added to yoghurt or oatmeal, or blended into smoothies. 

4. Dark chocolate

Pieces of dark chocolate on a plate and cocoa beans and cocoa powder on a table.
Not only is dark chocolate delicious, but it’s also good for your health.

Regularly consuming dark chocolate reduces the risk of depression symptoms by 70% more than those who reported no chocolate consumption based on a study of almost 14,000 participants. 

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids like epicatechin, magnesium, caffeine and theobromine. The latter two are stimulants that can enhance brain function and improve mood.

5. Fermented foods  

Eating fermented foods may have long-and short-term outcomes on brain function. For example, a study reported that participants who ate two to three servings of food like sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha daily experienced reduced stress. 

Fermented food contains tryptophan, an amino acid vital to the production of serotonin, which regulates mood. Low levels of serotonin are associated with anxiety and depression.

6. Tree nuts 

Evidence suggests that tree nuts may play a role in maintaining cognitive health and preventing cognitive decline, particularly in older adults and those at higher risk. 

Walnuts (he tao, 核桃), rich in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, and almonds (xing ren, 杏仁), packed with antioxidant polyphenols, are linked to better critical thinking abilities and improved memory function. 

7. Eggs

A woman holds a plate of vegetables with a small bowl of scrambled eggs.
Some studies have suggested a link between choline, which you can find in eggs, and better verbal and visual memory.

Eggs are a good source of choline, which may help maintain brain health. Choline is essential for producing acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in memory and learning. Studies have also suggested that choline intake may be associated with better cognitive function and a reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Additionally, eggs contain high-quality protein and other vital nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and folate. 

8. Turmeric 

This bright yellow spice contains curcumin, which may produce anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in lab studies. In addition, studies have suggested that curcumin may be why senior citizens in India, where curcumin is a dietary staple, have better cognitive fitness and a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. 

An 18-month trial in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry suggests that a daily intake of a particular form of curcumin may improve memory and attention in adults who have no dementia. 

Try taking an oat powder with curcumin for anti-inflammatory properties and pain relief.

9. Avocado 

Enjoy eggs and avocado on toast for brunch? That’s great because eating avocado may benefit brain ageing. The fruit is rich in healthy fats, fibre, B vitamins, carotenoids and monounsaturated fats. It also has fatty acid profiles similar to extra virgin olive oil and nuts that can aid cognition. 

A study among American adults aged 60 and above showed that those who ate avocado regularly scored higher on three types of cognition tests. 

10. Kiwi

Kiwifruit in halves and slices on a wooden table.
The kiwifruit may be tiny, but it’s packed with vitamin C and nutrients.

The kiwifruit has a remarkable abundance of vitamin C, polyphenols, potassium, and folate. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants that may protect from oxidative stress associated with cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. 

A study looked into the impact of kiwi on learning and memory impaired by lead exposure. Among the five types of kiwifruit, Qinmei kiwi, which contains more polyphenols, has the most excellent antioxidative effect. 

It’s important to remember that a healthy diet packed with brain foods is just one aspect of cognitive health. Taking a supplement to aid in brain function such as one with ginkgo biloba can make a difference too. Making lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and managing stress promote optimal cognitive function and improve your quality of life.

What foods are you adding to your meals to sharpen focus and preserve memory? Tell us below!  

This article is adapted from the Top 5 diet tips to keep your brain young, which is available on the Health123 website.

References

  1. Scientific Reports. 2022. The combined effect of physical activity and fruit and vegetable intake on decreasing cognitive decline in older Taiwanese adults. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  2. Oregon State University. Nutrition and cognitive function. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  3. Nutrition Reviews. 2021. Brain foods – the role of diet in brain performance and health. [online] [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  4. Clinical Nutrition. 2018. Feeding melancholic microbes: MyNewGut recommendations on diet and mood. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  5. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience2020. The Effect of Healthy Diet on Cognitive Performance Among Healthy Seniors – A Mini Review. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023] 
  6. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2016. Nutrition and risk of dementia: Overview and methodological issues. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  7. Molecular Psychiatry. 2023. Feed your microbes to deal with stress: A psychobiotic diet impacts microbial stability and perceived stress in a healthy adult population. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023] 
  8. Nutrients. 2023. Impact of Nut Consumption on Cognition across the Lifespan. [online] [Accessed on 17 April 2023] 
  9. Brain Research Bulletin. 2016. Repeated administration of almonds increases brain acetylcholine levels and enhances memory function in healthy rats while attenuates memory deficits in animal model of amnesia. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023] 
  10. National Institutes of Health. 2022. Choline Fact Sheet. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  11. Journal of Nutritional Science. 2021. Egg intake moderates the rate of memory decline in healthy older adults. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  12. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2018. Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable Form of Curcumin in Non-Demented Adults: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled 18-Month Trial. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  13. Depression and Anxiety. 2019. Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross-sectional survey of 13,626 US adults. Depress Anxiety. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  14. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2021. US Older Adults That Consume Avocado or Guacamole Have Better Cognition Than Non-consumers: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011–2014. [online]  [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  15. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 2020. Effects of 12-week avocado consumption on cognitive function among adults with overweight and obesity. [online] [Accessed on 17 April 2023]
  16. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2017. Kiwifruit Alleviates Learning and Memory Deficits Induced by Pb through Antioxidation and Inhibition of Microglia Activation In Vitro and In Vivo. [online] [Accessed on 17 April 2023]

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