A healthy diet doesn’t only benefit the body but also the mind. By getting adequate amounts of the right nutrients, you can enjoy boosts in your brain power that can enhance memory and cognitive function, and even reduce risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Experts all agree that food plays a vital role in the health and proper functioning of the brain. Let’s get to know not 10 or 20 but 60 of the best brain foods that you’d want to incorporate into your diet.
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Fruits that Can Boost Brain Power
- Apples – Here’s a twist to the apple adage to make it more suitable for adults: an apple a day keeps dementia away. Apples, which are rich in the antioxidant quercetin, can efficiently protect the brain cells from free radical damage on the outer lining of neurons. Get the most out of your apples by eating an apple a day with its skin.
- Avocados – Another superfood that’s fully loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, avocados are a great source of omega 3’s, vitamin E, potassium, and more that aid in proper brain function as well as promote blood flow to the brain. One study found that people who regularly eat avocados have 67 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Eat at least a ¼ cup of avocado each day to reap the benefits. Salad, dip, side dish, smoothie—your options are endless.
- Bananas – Vitamin B6, which is crucial to proper brain function, can be obtained from bananas. In fact, just one large banana already supplies 0.5 milligrams of the 1.7 milligrams of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for this important vitamin. A 1996 study from Tufts University in Boston revealed that men who consumed higher amounts of vitamin B6 performed better on cognitive tests than those who did not. The participants included 70 men with ages ranging between 54 to 81.
Another vital nutrient in banana is magnesium. Upon metabolizing protein, the body generates ammonia that even in small amounts can inhibit focus and reduce attention span. Magnesium acts by helping the body excrete ammonia much faster before it can disrupt brain function. It also assists in the electrical activities between brain nerve cells. You can get 37 milligrams of magnesium from a large banana. According to the Institute of Medicine, the RDA for magnesium is 265 to 350 milligrams.
- Blackberries – It’s true that learning becomes more difficult as people age. Call it information overload but really, it’s more of an inflammation problem that makes it difficult for communication to take place between brain cells. The antioxidants in blackberries can be the answer. According to a 2009 study from the Tufts University, polyphenols can tone down inflammation, promote better communication between the neurons, and therefore, enhance the brain’s ability to absorb and process new pieces of information.
- Blackcurrant – A study conducted by a science institute in New Zealand revealed that blackcurrants’ anthocyanins could improve alertness and concentration while reducing mental stress and fatigue. Of the 35 participants who were asked to take a series of mentally draining tests (each lasting for about 70 minutes), those who consumed blackcurrant extract were not only less exhausted but were also able to provide better answers. Apart from this, these dark berries also abound in vitamin C, containing five times more than oranges. Vitamin C can increase mental agility and prevent burnout of brain cells.
- Blueberries – Another super berry that deserves to be in this list is the blueberry. A recent study from the Tufts University indicates that eating blueberries can delay and/or reduce the risk of short-term memory loss. How’s that possible? The antioxidants in blueberries can help create new connective pathways in the brain, which tend to decline as people age.
- Cantaloupe – What you’d love about cantaloupe aside from its sweet taste is its abundant supply of potassium, which helps keep you focused and alert. It does so by making sure that there’s enough oxygen going to your brain. A 100-gram serving of this fruit contains 267 milligrams of potassium.
- Acai berries – The Acai Berry shot to fame for its ability to promote weight loss. But that’s just one of its many accolades. Packed with vitamins A, B complex, C and E, and minerals like selenium and zinc, this “superfood” is also super effective in giving your brain the power surge it needs. Unfortunately for the majority of us, acai berries will not be accessible, unless in the form of supplements.
- Cranberries – Snacking on luscious cranberries isn’t just a delight for the taste buds but also for the mind. These berries are known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that shields the brain from memory loss and other age-associated brain deterioration.
- Eggplant – There’s a lot going on in the eggplant skin that you used to throw away each time. This actually contains nasunin, a nutrient that strengthens communication between brain cells. Keeping the skin on when you cook eggplant omelet, fried eggplant, eggplant parmigiana, moussaka or eggplant croquettes would surely give you enhanced focus and memory.
- Grapes – Experts often say this: foods that benefit the heart benefit the brain as well. A study from the University of Cincinnati investigated how polyphenols (well-known nutrient for the heart) in grapes can also enhance learning skills and spatial memory. Researchers explain that the polyphenols do a great job improving communication between the brain cells.
- Oranges – Everyone knows that oranges contain loads of fiber and vitamin C, however, they are also rich in flavonoids, which according to the United States National Library of Medicine and the Linus Pauling Institute, can efficiently boost cognition and memory, especially for the elderly.
- Plums – Your favorite plums boost brainpower in two ways. First, its high concentration of the amino acid called tryptophan increases production of serotonin, a hormone that enhances problem-solving skills. Second, its antioxidants help transport oxygen to the brain cells. Apart from boosting brain function, it can also lengthen the life of your brain by reducing the risk of age-related brain disorders.
- Pomegranates – The wonderful benefits of pomegranates have been the subject of numerous studies, including one from the Washington University School of Medicine, which established that pregnant women who drank pomegranate juice helped their infants have brains that are resilient to the devastating effects of oxygen deprivation.
Another study (this one from Loma Linda University) showed that pomegranate’s polyphenols could lower the occurrence of beta-amyloid buildup in the brain, which as mentioned earlier, has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Raspberries – Like blueberries and blackberries, raspberries are also touted for their excellent brain-boosting properties. According to a new study presented in the 2013 Experimental Biology conference, mice who consumed berries for 60 days had better protection against radiation, which is known to have detrimental effects on the brain.
- Red grapes – If you’re not too keen on drinking red wine, there’s another way to enjoy the vast benefits of resveratrol and it’s by munching a bunch of red grapes. Red grapes can help in the prevention of circulatory disorders that shoot up the risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Strawberries – Several studies presented in the 2009 Berry Health Symposium presented how strawberries benefit the brain in various ways. The Chicago Healthy Aging Project revealed that older adults who eat at least one serving of strawberries every month enjoyed 16.2 percent slower rate of neurological decline. A research team from the Tufts University, meanwhile, demonstrated strawberries’ ability to enhance not only memory but also motor function.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes don’t usually make it to the lists of brain foods but there’s growing evidence that these offer strong protection against free radical damage that contribute to the onset of dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease.
A study from the University of Eastern Finland published in the Neurology journal explained that the antioxidant lycopene (which gives the tomato its bright red color) soaks up and kills free radicals before they inflict long-term damage on the brain cells.
It’s All About Nuts and Memory
- Nuts – Have you ever tried cramming for an important school exam with a bowl of nuts right beside you, hoping it would make you smarter? Although you might not have gotten the grade that you wish, this doesn’t mean that this theory is false. Nuts contain vitamin E, which according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, not only boosts brain function but also prevents cognitive deterioration especially among the elderly.
- Almonds – Munching a handful of almonds (at least two ounces a day) works great for the brain. Thanks to phenylalanine, L-carnitine, riboflavin, and omega 3 fatty acids, which are all potent brain nutrients that help maintain neurological function and fight memory loss. Researchers from the University of Illinois in Chicago found that an almond diet greatly improved memory in mice that are afflicted with an illness similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Cashews – If you love snacking on cashews, you’re in for a treat. These aren’t only tasty snacks, they’re also filled with magnesium, which helps the brain by opening up the blood vessels to encourage more oxygen to come in. As you know, more oxygen in the blood that goes to the brain, the better the brain can function.
- Peanut butter – According to the American Peanut Council, a serving of peanut butter contains as much as 10 percent of the RDA for protein, a nutrient necessary for manufacturing neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that brain cells need to communicate.
Peanut butter is also abundant with vitamins and minerals that regulate proper brain function. B-vitamins fight age-related degenerative diseases. Vitamin E protects against brain damage due to chemical breakdown. Magnesium, copper, potassium and phosphorus, meanwhile, help nerve cells produce electrical signals needed for communication within the body.
- Pistachios – A 2012 study published in the Lipids in Health and Disease journal established the role of pistachios in preventing various forms of mental disability. In laboratory trials involving animals, the oil extracted from pistachios has been found to prevent decreases in docosahexanoic acid (DHA) levels as well as hindered the activity of cycooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an inflammatory enzyme.
- Walnuts – Researchers at Tufts University conducted a study to prove walnut’s role in improving mental performance. Walnuts contain just enough vitamin E to bolster memory. Other than this, it has a good combination of omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants that works well in empowering the brain. These findings were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
What Vegetables Boost Brain Memory
- Acorn Squash – Acorn squash is an excellent source of folate or vitamin B9, which speeds up the rate by which the brain takes in new information. In a 2007 study published in the Lancet Journal, it was found that folic acid significantly improved memory and cognitive function.
- Broccoli – One of the many health benefits of vitamin K is a brainpower boost. And a great way to obtain this vitamin is from broccoli. Loading up on this cruciferous vegetable gives you over 2,000 micrograms of vitamin K per serving.
A British research study done at the King’s College in London also showed that this vitamin plays a significant role in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. These findings were backed up by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The substance responsible for this is called glucosinolates, which can be found in all the members of the cabbage family.
On top of this, there is evidence that the chemical compound sulforaphane found in broccoli can protect the brain from post-injury damage. A study published in Neuroscience Letters in 2009 reported that mice that were given this compound performed much better in a maze test than those who were not.
- Beets – Researchers from the Wake Forest University reported that beets contain natural nitrates that boost brain performance by increasing blood flow to the brain. This is definitely a good reason to eat more of this amazing root vegetable.
- Brussels sprouts – Apart from broccoli, you can also get your day’s supply of vitamin K from Brussels sprouts. This vegetable can also deliver your much-needed vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids, and tryptophan. All these nutrients do a great job in repairing DNA in cells and supporting optimal brain function.
- Cauliflower – Cauliflower makes for an ideal brain food as it contains choline that can empower the frontal lobe. This part of the brain is in-charge of memory, decision-making, logic and reasoning.
- Collard greens – There’s a good reason your mom always made you eat your veggies. Dark leafy ones like collard greens are brimming with vitamin K, which is said to have a positive effect on patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. What it does is that it inhibits neuron damage in the brain. Other than this, this vegetable contains essential B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and pyridoxine, as well as minerals such as copper, manganese, zinc, selenium, and iron. All these are known to increase brainpower.
- Peas – Although the term “pea-brain” denotes stupidity and foolishness, peas are actually excellent brain foods. Peas have countless brain-boosting nutrients. But let’s pay special attention to vitamin K. A hundred grams of garden peas contain over 20 percent of RDA for vitamin K, which can thwart off Alzheimer’s disease by inhibiting neuronal damage inside the brain.
- Potatoes – When we say potato as brain foods, we don’t mean French fries or potato chips but baked potato with its skin on and without salt. A serving of baked potato (about a hundred grams) provides you with 16 percent RDA for vitamin C and vitamin B6, 15 percent RDA for potassium, and 11 percent RDA for manganese, all of which play a crucial role in the production of brain chemicals like serotonin, melatonin, and GABA.
- Pumpkin seeds – Snack on a handful of these seeds to get the amount of glutamate needed to synthesize an anti-stress brain neurochemical called GABA, which can keep neurotic conditions at bay. These tasty kernels also supply a good amount of B vitamins, which promote proper functioning of the brain.
- Red cabbage – Scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) confirmed that red cabbage has 36 anthocyanins that can improve brain function and protect against oxidative stress. Another study from Cornell University explored the ability of red cabbage to reduce beta-amyloid buildup in the brain, which as stated early on, is typical in Alzheimer’s disease.
- Romaine lettuce – In a Harvard Medical School research, it was found that women who consumed green leafy vegetables particularly romaine lettuce were at less risk of cognitive decline than those who don’t eat their veggies. Similar studies echo these findings.
A Korean study pointed out the romaine lettuce’s phenolic compounds do a terrific job of protecting the brain from oxidative stress. An Indian study meanwhile, indicated the vegetable’s anxiolytic properties making people less prone to anxiety and panic attacks.
- Spinach – Apparently, spinach isn’t only for getting Popeye-like strength. It’s also jampacked with brain-boosting vitamins like vitamin E, vitamin K and folate. In the 2006 study published in the Neurology journal, it was revealed that daily consumption of three servings of spinach could slow down cognitive decline by as much as 40 percent.
- Sweet Potatoes – Don’t be fooled by the name—sweet potatoes are in fact less sugary than white potatoes. Not only that, evidence shows that this antioxidant-loaded root crop has excellent anti-inflammatory properties that can slow down deterioration of the brain among those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Sweet potatoes are loaded with carotenoids, which protect brain cells from free radical damage and help create new neurons and connections.
Brain Boosting Dairy Products
- Cheese – Published on the International Dairy Journal, emerging research shows that the essential fatty acids in cheese can effectively sharpen the mind. Those who consumed cheese and other dairy products like yogurt and milk achieved higher scores on mental ability tests than those who do not.
- Milk – Got milk? As it turns out, your mom was right! Milk is good for you. Other than supplying you with adequate calcium for the bones and teeth, a University of Maine study revealed that milk can also boost mental performance. Researchers believe the key is magnesium, one of the main minerals in milk. Out of the 900 participants involved in the study, those who had higher milk intake had significantly higher scores on memory and mental aptitude tests than those rarely or never drank milk.
- Yogurt – The amino acid in yogurt called tyrosine helps produce neurotransmitters like noradrenalin and dopamine. By eating yogurt regularly, you can enjoy heightened focus and mental alertness.
Meats & Fish for Memory
- Chicken – Can chicken make you brainier? A 2011 study says yes. According to researchers from Boston University, chicken contains a B vitamin called choline that can help protect the brain from aging. In their course of research, they found that people who consumed food sources with choline fared better in memory tests. They were also at lower risk of dementia.
- Fish – Oily fish is one of the best sources of essential fatty acids like omega 3, which the body is not able to manufacture. Omega 3 contains DHA and EPA that are necessary for proper brain function. A Tufts University study that involved 900 elderly men and women found that those with higher DHA levels had a 47 percent less risk of memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Lean beef – Beef is often frowned upon by health buffs since it’s loaded with cholesterol. But lean beef isn’t as bad. Apart from being a good source of protein, it also has high levels of iron. One study found that women with sufficient iron in the bloodstream scored not only higher but also finished mental tasks more quickly compared to iron-deficient women. This is because this mineral transports oxygen to the brain and body. These findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Salmon – Packed with omega 3 fatty acids particularly DHA, salmon is great for building neurons and connections, and thereby, bolstering communication among the brain cells. Not only does DHA help you excel in cognitive tasks, it also helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Salmon is also a good source of vitamin D, which can also impede cognitive decline.
Herbs & Spices for Cognitive Function
- Cinnamon – One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is the presence of tau proteins in the brain, which slow down and eventually kill brain cells. A University of California study discovered that cinnamon contains compounds called cinnamaldehyde and proanthocyanidins that can potentially inhibit tau proteins. A dash of cinnamon on your bread, oatmeal or hotcake can do your brain health a favor.
- Sage – Apart from adding unique flavor to your dishes, sage is also known for its medicinal properties. It’s also said to have positive effects on memory. Sage extract oil was the focus of a study published in the Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior.
Results showed that participants who consumed 50 micro liters of sage oil extract performed much better on cognitive tests than those who were on placebo. Compounds in sage inhibit the breakdown of memory- and learning-boosting neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.
- Turmeric – A widely used spice, especially in the Middle East, turmeric doesn’t only add zest to your dishes but also provides multiple benefits for the brain. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which according to the scientists at the University of California, blocks beta-amyloid plaque formation that’s typically seen among Alzheimer’s disease patients. This compound also keeps cholesterol levels in check and fights off inflammation—both of which could reduce the flow of blood to the brain.
Other Brain Boosting Foods
- Brewer’s yeast – As the term implies, this is the yeast that’s used for brewing beer. But apart from creating the popular alcoholic beverage, the brewer’s yeast, which comes from a one-celled fungus called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is chockfull of protein, chromium, and vitamin B-complex, all necessary for proper brain function.
- Brown rice – Brown rice is an excellent fuel for the brain. As you probably know, brown rice is big on B vitamins. It also has riboflavin for energy production in the brain cells and this is accomplished by jumpstarting the mitochondria. The other B vitamins like thiamin and niacin are also crucial for healthy brain function. Note: This does not apply to white rice.
- Dark chocolate – You’ve heard it again and again that dark chocolate is the least evil among chocolate varieties. The other two (milk and white chocolates) are just too fatty and sugary for your own good. Here’s another feather in the dark chocolate’s hat: a 2009 study discovered that one-third ounce a day can do so much in thwarting memory loss. The findings, which were published in the Journal of Nutrition, elaborated that this is due to the polyphenols found in cocoa that promotes good blood circulation to the brain.
- Eggs – Eating eggs for breakfast—whether omelet, scrambled, sunny side up or boiled—has been proven to be effective in supporting brain function. The yellow part called the yolk is an excellent source of choline, a precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps keep your memory in top condition. A Swiss study provides evidence for this theory, stating that eggs definitely give you an edge when it comes to cognitive performance.
- Extra virgin olive oil – Do you know what ADDLs are? Short for amyloid B-derived diffusible ligands; these are toxic proteins that trigger the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. These proteins attach themselves to the brain cells, making communication much more difficult. This leads to loss of memory. The best way to combat ADDLs is with extra virgin olive oil with its powerful oleocanthal compound. This is according to a study from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.
- Flaxseed oil – Flaxseed oil contains ALA or alpha-linolenic acid, a fatty acid that pumps up the action in the cerebral cortex. This is the part of the brain that handles sensory information like taste and touch. A tablespoon of flaxseed oil can already provide you with that much-needed brainpower boost.
- Green Tea – Here’s something beer drinkers need to know. While alcohol kills brain cells (liver cells damaged by alcohol produce toxic byproducts like ammonia, the excess of which enters the brain), green tea on the other hand helps create new cells.
Molecular Nutrition and Food Research journal published a study indicating that the chemical epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG) promotes growth of brand new brain cells, and thereby improving brain processes like spatial reasoning, memory, and decision-making. Caffeine in tea is also known to stimulate brain activity. Two cups of green tea a day will provide you with wonderful benefits for the brain.
- Legumes – Include more legumes into your daily diet. Add lentils, black beans, garbanzo beans and pinto beans to your soup, salad, and side dish to enjoy their brain-boosting power that comes from folate. A team of researchers from Netherlands conducted a study that probed the speed by which 800 men and women processed information. Those who had high levels of folate scored much higher. Folate, a form of B vitamin, reduces brain-impairing amino acids.
- Soybeans – A Japanese study discussed the brain-boosting benefits of soybean peptides. In this study, participants (ages 20 to 25) were asked to take soybean peptide powder mixed with water. After that, their brain cerebral blood was examined. It was found that there were higher levels of adrenaline and neurotransmitters after intake of soybean peptide powder.
- Oatmeal – Eating oatmeal in the morning won’t only help keep you full longer, it also fuels your mind with the help of glucose. Providing a nutritional balance of vitamin E, vitamin B complex, zinc, potassium, and carbohydrates, oatmeal has positive effects on memory, brain longevity, and learning skills.
Also, it contains a lot of soluble fiber that keeps cholesterol levels in check. Bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein, can build up in the blood vessels, causing a diminished supply of oxygen to the brain, which can damage it over time.
- Water – Here’s an interesting fact that would make you stick to the 8-glasses-a-day habit: dehydration can shrink the brain. Sweating heavily for 90 minutes can shrink your brain as much as one year of aging. That’s not really a surprise since the brain is three-quarters water. A group of researchers from Ohio University found that people who are well hydrated scored much higher on cognitive tests than those who didn’t drink enough water.
- Wheat germ – The wheat kernel’s most nutritious part is the embryo, more commonly known as the wheat germ. It’s one of those foods with the highest concentration of choline. That’s 152 milligrams of choline per 100 grams of wheat germ. The human body needs an average of 550 milligrams per day to produce a memory-enhancing neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.
- Whole grains – Just like the body, the brain also needs energy to function. And one of the best ways to get that energy is through whole grains. Whole grains provide glucose, which the brain can use as fuel. This can keep you mentally focused and alert throughout the day. Examples of whole grains are brown rice, rolled oats, wheat bread, brown pasta and wheat bran.
With this long list of brain boosters that you can include in your diet, you can bid goodbye to memory lag, poor concentration and limit risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and say hello to alertness and better mental performance.