“Brain foods” is the term for foods rich in healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that have proven to have profound effects on how the brain functions. Here we dive in to the 7 best foods for better brain health.
What are “Brain Foods”?
When people think of the importance of nutrition, most often they may recognize the role it plays in how our bodies look physically. What if you learned that eating the right kinds of foods could not only affect how you look but also how you feel and function? Recently, more research has been done on the relationship between the food we eat and better brain health. The same brain networks that control emotion have been directly linked with the brain networks that control eating 1.
What Foods are Best for Brain Health?
1st Best Food for Brain Health
Nuts are great sources of healthy fats and protein. According to different clinical trials, walnuts in particular are associated with improving memory 2. They are one of the best foods for brain health because they are high in the omega-3 fatty known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which also is associated with lowering blood pressure. Walnuts also have high levels of vitamin E, an antioxidant that can help protect against the formation of Alzheimer’s.
2nd Best Food for Brain Health
Fatty fish such as salmon, cod, tuna, and pollack are also great foods for brain health. Not only are these great sources of protein but also fat! These types of fish are full of omega-3’s that can help improve memory and combat brain fog 3. Omega-3 fatty acids also help lower levels of beta-amyloid, a protein that can cause clumps to form in the brain that which can lead to damage in people with Alzheimer’s. Eat these types of fish at least 2 times a week for the most benefit on brain health.
Probiotics & Fermented Foods
3rd Best Food for Brain Health
Fermented foods include those like Greek yogurt, kombucha, and kimchi that help improve gut health by being rich in probiotics. Probiotics are microorganisms found in fermented foods that are beneficial to promoting the growth of healthy bacteria your gut. In recent years, more light has been shed on the relationship between the gut and the brain. Turns out, the brain and gut are interconnected! The gut produces a large amount of neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for affecting our mood, stress, and appetite 1. The bacteria living in our gut are responsible for producing 90% of the serotonin produced in our bodies. Therefore, consuming more probiotics can aid in the production of more serotonin, which allows us to feel calmer, more relaxed and happier.
4th Best food for Brain Health
Have you ever noticed how eating a piece of chocolate can instantly put you in a good mood? Well, I’m here to tell you this is no coincidence! Although, this feeling could be attributed to the sugar content in the chocolate bar, chocolate is actually full of mood boosting chemicals. Dark chocolate in particular is considered to be a great food for brain health because of its low sugar content and high antioxidant properties. It’s high in flavonoids, a chemical that can reduce inflammation and increase blood flow to the brain. Chocolate also releases other chemicals like N-acylethanolamine which has a similar molecular structure to cannabinoids and can have a positive effect on mood. 4
Improve your mood by trying my double chocolate pumpkin mug cake full of brain food!
5th Best Food for Brain Health
Berries aren’t just nature’s candy but are also some of the best brain foods! Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are all very rich in antioxidants, fiber and vitamins such as C and K. Naturally occurring plant chemicals called flavonoids give berries their bright color. These chemicals are beneficial for the brain and are what makes berries a great food for brain health! For example, blueberries contain a pigment called anthocyanins that is responsible for their blue color. Studies show anthocyanins can help reduce symptoms in people with depression. 5
Get your daily serving of brain foods by trying my paleo banana blueberry muffin recipe!
Green Leafy Vegetables
6th Best Food for Brain Health
Raise your hand if you have a memory of not being allowed to leave the dinner table until all of your veggies were gone! Well, turns out your parents had a point in making you eat your green vegetables before you could go play. Green leafy vegetables not only hold a variety of nutrients such as fiber, vitamin K, folate, and beta-carotene but also help slow-age related decline of mental function. 6 Eating vegetables like kale, spinach, collards and broccoli at a young-age can help prevent against conditions like dementia at an older age. This makes them an excellent food for brain health!
7th Best Food for Brain Health
Contrary to wide-belief, coffee actually holds many health benefits and is a brain food! In a study published by the Journal of Nutrition in 2014, participants that drank higher amounts of caffeine had better test scores on those of mental function compared to individuals who did not consume caffeine. 7 Caffeine not only helps the brain to work more efficiently but can also increase the bodies levels of dopamine by slowing the rate dopamine leaves the brain. So next time you’re happily sipping on your cup of coffee in the morning, remember it’s a brain food. (:
Don’t forget to try my recipe for a brain food packed copycat Starbucks latte!
More Brain Power with Foods for Brain Health
The best foods for brain health are those that are rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and other micronutrients. Foods like walnuts and fatty fish are rich on omega-3 fatty acids that benefit the brain by reducing inflammation and improving memory. 3 Dark chocolate and berries are also great foods for brain health due to the chemicals they hold and their positive effect on improving mood . Other excellent foods for brain health include leafy green vegetables which hold vital micronutrients that help protect against cognitive decline as we age. 6 Coffee is a great source of caffeine which has the potential of improving mental function and increasing the brain’s dopamine levels. Lastly, consuming fermented foods rich in probiotics make our gut happy- which we have learned is directly linked to our brain and in charge of releasing hormones that regulate our appetite and mood.
Incorporate these 7 brain foods into your diet for better brain health and more brain power!
- Ekstrand, B., Scheers, N., Rasmussen, M. K., Young, J. F., Ross, A. B., & Landberg, R. (2021, June). Brain foods – the role of diet in brain performance and health. Retrieved from Oxford Academic: https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/79/6/693/5912697?login=false
- Chauhan, A., & Chauhan, V. (2020, February). Beneficial Effects of Walnuts on Cognition and Brain Health. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071526/#:~:text=Human%20clinical%20trials%20have%20also,compared%20to%20baseline%20in%20adults.
- University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio . (2022, October 5). Study links omega-3s to improved brain structure, cognition at midlife. Retrieved from Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/10/221005162432.htm
- Nehlig, A. (2013, March). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575938/
- Fisk, J., Khalid, S., Reynolds, S. A., & Williams, C. M. (2020, July 28). Effect of 4 weeks daily wild blueberry supplementation on symptoms of depression in adolescents. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32151287/
- National Institute of Aging. (2018, February 23). Leafy greens linked with slower age-related cognitive decline. Retrieved from National Institute of Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/leafy-greens-linked-slower-age-related-cognitive-decline
- Beydoun, M. A., Gamaldo, A. A., Beydoun, H. A., Tanaka, T., Tucker, K. L., Talegawkar, S. A., & Ferrucci, L. Z. (2014, April 17). Caffeine and Alcohol Intakes and Overall Nutrient Adequacy Are Associated with Longitudinal Cognitive Performance among U.S. Adults. Retrieved from The Journal of Nutrition: https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/144/6/890/4615979