8 Great Ways to Feed Your Brain

By Megan Moore, RDN, LD, CDCES

 

With school back in session, how can we make sure our kids’ brains are sharp for learning and ours stay healthy as we age?

 

There is no single “super brain” food or magic supplement, but there is ample research linking a healthy dietary pattern that includes lots of vibrant vegetables, fresh fruits, legumes, whole grains, fish, and unsaturated fats to improve mental function.

 

It’s no coincidence that the best brain foods are also the same ones that safeguard your heart and blood vessels. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, folate, beta-carotene, magnesium, B-vitamins, choline, and antioxidants (such as these below) are particularly known to support brain health.

 

Numerous studies have indicated that individuals consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables exhibit fewer age-related diseases, especially when paired with low saturated fat intake. The MIND Diet, developed by Rush University, emphasizes green leafy vegetables and berries, specifically, in addition to other plant-based whole foods.

 

Eight Great Brain foods

 

Let’s highlight just eight of the many outstanding foods that, when consumed on a regular basis, may benefit your brain health immensely.

 

Salmon: Fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, and sardines, are our best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid—the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Leafy Greens: Kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens are rich in vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta-carotene—all brain healthy nutrients! Research suggests that eating these leafy green veggies daily may slow cognitive decline.

 

Walnuts: With the brain being composed of 60% lipids, healthful fats are obviously important for brain development and repair. Nuts in general are a great source of unsaturated fat, vitamin E, and magnesium, but walnuts are unique in that they are primarily comprised of omega-3 ALA fat. One study found that students who regularly ate walnuts were better at inferential reasoning.

 

hands holding blueberries

 

Blueberries: Research shows that the consumption of blueberries may help improve short-term memory, as well as protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals. It’s the antioxidants found in berries that are especially important for brain health, as the brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress which then contributes to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases.

 

Whole Grains: Oats, quinoa, and other whole grains promote cardiovascular health, which improves blood flow to the brain. High fiber carbohydrates provide the steady, slow-burning fuel source (glucose) necessary for our brains to function throughout the day. Whole grains are also an excellent source of vitamin E, fiber, B-vitamins, and magnesium—all key nutrients for brain health.

 

Eggs: Two important nutrients for brain health and cognition are found in eggs: choline and lutein. Choline plays a role in early brain development, particularly in areas of the brain that are used for memory and learning. Lutein has long been associated with eye health, but research has now discovered that higher serum concentrations of lutein are associated with better cognitive function in older adults as well. Be sure to enjoy the whole egg, including the yolk, where choline and lutein are found. 

 

Beets: Beets promote blood flow to the brain due to their high concentration of nitrates, which allows the brain to think more clearly and improves attention span. Additionally, beets are high in antioxidants (like all brightly colored fruits and veggies), which decrease inflammation and neurodegeneration.

 

Chocolate: Last, but certainly not least, is dark (I mean really dark, like 70% cocoa dark) chocolate. The flavonoids in dark chocolate increase blood flow to the brain, which improves cognitive function. Natural dark chocolate, coffee, and tea also contain caffeine, which a 2018 study suggested may cause an increase in brain entropy. When entropy is high, the brain can process more information, and stay alert and focused longer.

 

Studies have shown that you can also help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with these additional basic good health habits:

  • staying physically active
  • getting enough sleep
  • not smoking
  • having regular social connections
  • limiting alcohol to no more than one drink a day
  • eating a plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet
  • continuing to learn new things
  • reducing stress

 

Here’s the test! Can you list from memory the eight great brain foods discussed above? Go!

 

Feeding the brain sample meal plan

*Portion sizes and calorie needs will vary based on body size, gender, activity level, and health goals.

kid friendly sample meal plan

*Portion sizes and calorie needs will vary based on body size, gender, activity level, and health goals.

 

Creamy Sweet Broccoli Slaw

Serves 6

Ingredients

4 cups broccoli slaw

1 apple, diced

½ cup pineapple tidbits in 100% juice (juice reserved)

¼ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup chopped walnuts

Dressing:

1/3 cup light mayo

¼ cup pineapple juice

2 tsp poppy seeds

Preparation

Combine broccoli, apples, and pineapples.

Mix dressing until smooth.

Pour dressing over salad.

Top with cranberries and walnuts.

Chill before serving.

 

 

References:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23680940/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4849169/

https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/139/9/1813S/4670551

https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/leafy-greens-linked-slower-age-related-cognitive-decline

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21923981/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/6-simple-steps-to-keep-your-mind-sharp-at-any-age

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/dont-buy-into-brain-health-supplements

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/foods-linked-to-better-brainpower

https://americanbrainsociety.org/10-superfoods-to-boost-brain-power/

https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0618p40.shtml

https://www.eggnutritioncenter.org/science-education/cognition/fuel-brain-nutrient-rich-eggs/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-21008-6