The 9 Healthiest Foods for a Brain

The 9 Healthiest Foods for a Brain

An increasing number of studies demonstrate that certain meals have the nutritional profile to support preserving mental clarity.

You may lower your chance of developing dementia by swapping out as little as 10% of the highly processed items in your diet for minimally processed or whole foods.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cognitive decline affects 1 in 9 persons in the United States, which is more than you may assume (CDC).

Fortunately, research indicates that a number of everyday behaviors, such as paying attention to what you put on your plate and in your supermarket cart, may reduce your risk for illnesses like dementia.

The best nutritional strategy for enhancing brain health outcomes, according to Bonnie J. Kaplan, PhD, a research psychologist and coauthor of The Better Brain: Overcome Anxiety, Combat Depression, and Reduce ADHD and Stress with Nutrition, is to consume whole foods from a variety of food groups and much fewer ultra-processed ones.

The typical Western diet contains a significant amount of ultra-processed foods, which are typically packaged snacks and drinks with high levels of sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats. This is concerning because ultra-processed foods appear to be a major contributor to the risk of cognitive decline.

According to a study published in July 2022 in Neurology that followed 72,083 adults 55 or older for an average of 10 years, replacing just 10% of the ultra-processed foods in a person's diet with the same amount by weight of unprocessed or minimally processed foods was associated with a 19% reduction in dementia risk.

According to Elizabeth Somer, RD, the Salem, Oregon-based author of Food & Mood, "poor diets not only fail to offer vital brain-protecting nutrients but also add insult to injury by overwhelming the brain with toxic compounds."

Food is undoubtedly one of the most significant levers we can use to influence brain health. While some meals lack the nourishment required to support mental health, others include substances that may assist keep your brain functioning properly. And some of the edibles that might help reset your brain's biological clock and elevate your mood may surprise you.

Here is your cheat sheet for the meals (and one drink) you need to remember to include on your shopping list to support your noodle.

Canned Sardines

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One of the finest sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the grocery store are these affordable canned fish, which, according to some studies, may delay age-related cognitive decline. In a study published in the journal Nutrients including 6,587 people, it was shown that eating fatty fish, such as sardines and salmon, and consuming moderate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources were linked to a lower incidence of depressive symptoms. And a research that appeared in The BMJ in July 2021 found a link between increased omega-3 consumption and fewer, less severe headaches in those who have these skull crushers.

Dr. Kaplan refers to lipids in the grey matter and adds, "Basically, we are fat heads, since our brains are 60% fat." Therefore, good fats, such as omega-3s, are necessary for the cell membranes in our brains to operate at their best. She continues by saying that changing the ratio of these fats in our meals may assist reduce inflammation in the brain and make it simpler to maintain higher cognitive performance by ingesting more omega-3 fats and less omega-6 ones from highly processed foods. The best recommendation, according to Kaplan, is to aim for two meals of fatty fish each week. "We don't yet know the perfect quantity of seafood to consume for brain health," Kaplan adds.

Sardines in cans are also a rich source of vitamin D. According to nutrition data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving offers 193 IU or 24 percent of the recommended value (USDA). Even after taking into consideration a number of dementia risk variables, researchers discovered that older people who consumed the most vitamin D from food were less likely to get dementia than those who consumed the least. Alzheimer's & Dementia released the results in September 2020. Vitamin D might be seen as crucial together with all of the other nutrients, but we can't expect to maximise brain function with just one vitamin, adds Kaplan. Any nutritional deficiency, including vitamin D deficiency, is never going to be helpful for brain function.

Few Americans get enough vitamin D from food or sunlight, therefore it may be a good idea to include canned sardines more often in your diet. Try the little swimmers in frittatas, spaghetti dishes, and sandwiches.


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Could adding strawberries to your yoghurt, cereal, or smoothies, or blending them up, help shield your brain against Alzheimer's? RUSH University researchers suggest that could be the case. They found that a substance called pelargonidin, which is plentiful in strawberries (more so than other popular berries), may be linked to less neurofibrillary tau tangles in the brain. Their study was published in July 2022 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. This is significant because aberrant alterations in tau proteins are one of the main indicators of Alzheimer's disease in the brain. According to the authors of the study, pelargonidin's anti-inflammatory properties may lessen overall neuroinflammation, which may prevent these tau proteins from becoming misfolded and enable better transport of nutrients and other vital substances from one region of the brain nerve cells to another.

We don't yet have enough data to determine the optimal daily intake of strawberries for brain health, but a daily portion of 12 cup of the juicy, sweet fruit is probably a safe bet.

In order to help us stay more hydrated, we need also keep in mind that strawberries and other fruits may serve as a regular supply of water. According to prior study, allowing oneself to get dehydrated may cause a severe impairment in executive function and working memory.

Black Lentils

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It's possible that not all lentils are made equal when it comes to safeguarding our brains. According to a research that appeared in the September 2021 issue of Neurology, persons who had at least half a portion of foods high in plant-based flavonoids daily had a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment than those who consumed less of these foods. Anthocyanins, which are often found in blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and black lentils, were also shown to have some of the highest protective benefits against cognitive decline among individual flavonoids, according to the results, which were based on data from 49,493 women and 27,842 men. Somer claims that these substances have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may improve brain function and delay the onset of cognitive decline.

Additionally, black lentils are a fantastic source of nutritional fibre, much like other legumes. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the majority of individuals do not consume the recommended daily amount of fibre, which is 28 grammes for adults on a 2,000 calorie diet. This deficiency may be endangering long-term brain health. A high-fiber diet may lower the chance of developing debilitating dementia in persons aged 40 to 64, according to a research that was published in February 2022 in Nutritional Neuroscience. Particularly for soluble fibre, which is present in lentils, the connection was clear.

Although the processes are not yet established, they may entail interactions between the stomach and the brain: The microbiome, or collection of beneficial bacteria in the human gastrointestinal system, may be controlled by fibre, which may have an effect on inflammation in the brain.

Black lentils are a fantastic addition to salads and soups since they maintain their form during cooking and have a less earthy flavour than other lentils.


Before scientists had a better grasp of neurones, it was thought that during early life, neurones were unable to divide and grow. They now understand that's not the case, however.

In certain parts of the brain, neurones may grow and become more numerous. They are also capable of creating new connections. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is a key driver of this process (BDNF). This gene contributes to the production of a protein essential for maintaining the health of neurones.

The brain regions in charge of eating, drinking, and body weight include the BDNF protein, which plays a function in memory and learning. Decreased BDNF protein levels have been associated with several prevalent brain conditions, including depression and Alzheimer's disease.

Curiously, research on animals have shown that curcumin may raise BDNF levels in the brain. As a result, many brain disorders and age-related declines in brain function may be effectively delayed or even reversed. However, because these experiments were carried out on animals, it is challenging to interpret the implications for people.

Given how it affects BDNF levels, it may also aid with memory and concentration. However, further research is required to support this. Curcumin raises levels of the brain hormone BDNF, which promotes the development of new neurones and may aid in the prevention of a number of neurodegenerative disorders.


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Choline is a substance you definitely don't want to scrimp on when it comes to our brains. The nerve neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which controls memory, and an unique class of fats called phospholipids that are present in cell membranes are both made of choline, according to Somer. She continues, "In fact, acetylcholine underproduction is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. According to research reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, increasing phosphatidylcholine consumption via food may reduce the incidence of dementia and improve cognitive function. Additionally, you should be sure to consume enough choline if you're expecting a child since research indicates that it may help with newborn brain development.

Somer emphasises that although the body can create choline with the aid of other nutrients like folic acid and vitamin B12, there are occasions when this production is insufficient to support proper brain function. Eggs may be a great help in the situation. Eggs, more especially the yolks, are just about the second-richest source of choline in grocery stores, behind beef liver, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A single egg provides around 30% of the recommended daily amount of choline, which is good for the brain. Eggs were the main source of phosphatidylcholine in the diets of research participants, as noted above. And a research published in the journal Nutrients found that those who frequently eat eggs often ingest twice as much choline as persons who don't.


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All vegetables are healthy, but Popeye's prefered green is one of the best for keeping your mind bright and protecting it. Why? A research published in 2020 in the Journal of Nutrition indicated that spinach is notably rich in carotenoid antioxidants like beta-carotene and lutein, which may reduce the risk of moderate or poor cognitive function in women as they age. One study in the Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience journal found evidence to corroborate this claim, showing that middle-aged subjects with greater levels of lutein showed brain responses more comparable to those of younger people. However, don't imagine that regularly consuming large amounts of carotenoids can maintain your brain in peak condition. Consumptions of these plant substances, which are present in colourful vegetables including leafy greens, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes, must be continuously high for many years in order to be beneficial.

The ability of these anti-oxidant carotenoids to protect brain cells from oxidative damage, which accelerates ageing, may contribute to the process. According to Kaplan, "a higher consumption of carotenoids is also an indication that a person is consuming an overall whole-foods, nutrient-dense diet, which is critical to maintain brain function." Carotenoids, which are the yellow, orange, and red pigments present in many fruits and vegetables, are the reason why we are advised to eat a rainbow of colours.

In addition to salads, spinach may be blended into pestos, added liberally to frittatas, stirred into stews, curries, and soups at the end of cooking, and blended into smoothies (with other components like fruit, you won't even taste it).


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In addition to helping you gain lean muscle, eating extra protein may help decrease the deterioration of your brain and the development of dementia. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that adult women and men who consumed more protein than carbohydrates over several years showed fewer signs of waning cognitive functioning. The study was intended to test the relationships between yearly protein intake and age-related cognitive decline. It was shown that protein from fish, lean chicken, and legumes was particularly advantageous, but intriguingly, plant protein sources were associated with a larger benefit to the brain than many animal-based proteins. According to Somer, this is probably because plant-based diets are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, fibre, vitamins, and minerals that help protect the brain from oxidative damage and provide all the building blocks necessary to create and sustain a well-functioning brain.

According to USDA statistics, tempeh, which is made from whole soybeans that have been boiled, fermented with a fungus, and then formed into a solid, thick patty, provides 20 grammes of protein that is good for the brain per 3-ounce portion. It is a dependable supply of iron as well. Another research indicated that women with healthy iron levels performed better on mental activities and finished them more quickly than did those with low iron status. The results of this study were reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The body requires oxygen to operate correctly, and iron helps get oxygen there, especially to the brain.

Make tacos, salads, grain bowls, and sandwiches using cooked tempeh. For vegetarian chilli, vegan meatballs, veggie burgers, or a Bolognese for pasta night, you may shred a block of cheese using a box grater with wide holes. For a vegan kabob that can improve your memory, cut it into cubes and combine it with vibrant veggies.


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Maybe an avocado a day can help you avoid the brain doctor. A research published in the journal Nutrients demonstrated that eating avocados regularly for six months significantly improved people's working memory and problem-solving effectiveness. The researchers ascribed the advantage to the creamy fruit's high quantities of bioavailable lutein, an antioxidant that is integrated into our brains after consumption. Kaplan explains that "phytonutrients like lutein are plant-based nutrients we derive from whole foods that help our mitochondria produce sufficient amounts of ATP," adding that "every cell in our body, including in the brain, has mitochondria, which function to produce ATP, the energy molecule, and one of the main functions of ATP is to tamp down excessive inflammation."

Far from being a one-hit wonder, avocado is also a good source of fibre, monounsaturated fat, and folate, all of which help slow down the pace at which your brain ages.

The USDA estimates that one avocado has roughly 322 calories, so if you want to add more avocado to your toast and salads as a wonderful approach to help slow down the ageing process in your brain, you should be aware of this. In order to give your brain a boost, you should preferably replace some of the calories from less nutritious meals with those from avocado.


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We've all heard about green tea's health advantages, but did you know that matcha is green tea's superpowered sibling? Both are made from the Camellia sinensis tea plant, but matcha is produced from leaves that are grown in the shade and ground into a fine powder. This means that, according to research, it contains nutrients and antioxidants that protect the brain from the entire leaf, including flavonoids and phenolics.

According to Somer, because the brain uses more oxygen than any other bodily part, it is subjected to a significant daily dosage of oxygen atoms known as free radicals. Free radicals are troublemakers that assault, harm, and kill every brain cell they come across. Decades of free radical attacks are considered to have contributed to the deterioration of memory and thinking that comes with age. She claims that fortunately, the body possesses an anti-free-radical army made up of antioxidants acquired from nutrition that neutralise these dangerous oxygen pieces. The greatest source of these antioxidants is colourful fruit, although green tea is also a good option. According to a comparative study from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, matcha powder has even higher antioxidant levels than regular green tea.

In addition, L-theanine, a special amino acid found in green tea and matcha, may enhance cognitive function, particularly memory function, according to research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food. However, it is unknown whether drinking a matcha latte would provide you with enough L-theanine to have a long-term cognitive advantage. Kaplan did point out that some evidence suggests that amino acids like theanine, which is contained in green tea, may also be helpful in easing anxiety attacks. She does, however, think that substituting tea for sugary beverages in our diets may have a significant positive impact on our brain health. "Liquid sugar is particularly detrimental to our general health and brain function." In other words, it's better to avoid adding sugar to your iced matcha or any other tea beverage.





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