The foods we eat can have a big impact on the structure and health of our brains. Eating a brain-boosting diet can support both short- and long-term brain function.
The brain is an energy-intensive organ, using around 20 percent of the body’s calories, so it needs plenty of good fuel to maintain concentration throughout the day.
The brain also requires certain nutrients to stay healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, help build and repair brain cells, and antioxidants reduce cellular stress and inflammation, which are linked to brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Oily fish are a good sourceTrusted Source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help build membranes around each cell in the body, including the brain cells. They can, therefore, improve the structure of brain cells called neurons.
A 2017 studyTrusted Source found that people with high levels of omega-3s had increased blood flow in the brain. The researchers also identified a connection between omega-3 levels and better cognition, or thinking abilities.
Examples of oily fish that contain high levels of omega-3s include: salmon, mackerel,tuna, herring, sardines. People can also get omega-3s from soybeans, nuts, flaxseed, and other seeds.
Dark chocolate contains cocoa, also known as cacao. Cacao contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant.
Antioxidants are especially important for brain health, as the brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which contributes to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases.
Cacao flavonoids seem to be good for the brain. According to a 2013 reviewTrusted Source, they may encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in parts of the brain involved in memory and learning. They may also stimulate blood flow in the brain.
Some research also suggests that the flavonoid component of chocolate may reverse memory problems in snails. Scientists have yet to test this in humans.
Like dark chocolate, many berries contain flavonoid antioxidants. Research suggests that these may make the berries good food for the brain.
Antioxidants help by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. The antioxidants in berries include anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, and quercetin. Source notes that the antioxidant compounds in berries have many positive effects on the brain, including: improving communication between brain cells, reducing inflammation throughout the body, ncreasing plasticity, which helps brain cells form new connections, boosting learning and memory, reducing or delaying age-related neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline.
Antioxidant-rich berries that can boot brain health include: strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants, mulberries.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a plant-based source of healthful fats and proteins.
Eating more nuts and seeds may be good for the brain, as these foods contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
A 2014 studyTrusted Source found that a higher overall nut intake was linked to better brain function in older age.
Nuts and seeds are also rich sourcesTrusted Source of the antioxidant vitamin E, which protects cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
As a person ages, their brain may be exposed to this form of oxidative stress, and vitamin E may therefore support brain health in older age.
The nuts and seeds with the highest amounts of vitamin E include: sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts.
Eating whole grains is another way to benefit from the effects of vitamin E, with these grains being a good sourceTrusted Source of the vitamin.
Whole-grain foods include: brown rice, barley, bulgur wheat, oatmeal, whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta
A source of healthful unsaturated fat, avocados may support the brain.
Eating monounsaturated fats may reduceTrusted Source blood pressure, and high blood pressure is linked with cognitive decline.
Thus, by reducing high blood pressure, the unsaturated fats in avocados may lower the risk of cognitive decline.
Other sources of healthful unsaturated fats include: almonds, cashews, and peanuts
flaxseed, chia seeds, soybean, sunflower, and canola oils, walnuts and Brazil nuts, fish.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are rich in fiber and nutrients.
As well as being a low-calorie source of dietary fiber, broccoli may be good for the brain.
Broccoli is rich in compounds called glucosinolates. When the body breaks these down, they produce isothiocyanates.
Isothiocyanates may reduceTrusted Source oxidative stress and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Broccoli also contains vitamin C and flavonoids, and these antioxidants can further boost a person’s brain health.
Other cruciferous vegetables that contain glucosinolates include: brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, kale.
The foods listed above may help improve a person’s memory and concentration. Some may also reduce the risk of stroke and age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Some of the foods contain compounds such as healthful fatty acids, which can help improve the structure of brain cells called neurons. Other compounds, such as sugars and saturated fats, may damage brain cell structures.
Beyond adjusting the diet, a person can optimize their brain function by: not eating too much or too little; getting enough sleep; keeping hydrated; exercising regularly; reducing stress through yoga, mindfulness, or meditation; reducing alcohol intake
Eating a brain-boosting diet will also provide many benefits for the entire body.