The brain needs support, and while age will impact memory to some extent, the right foods can keep a person’s memory sharp. Diet plays a major role in memory. These foods support memory and can protect against memory loss.
Berries in general are known to have memory-boosting properties, and the blueberry is the superfood best known for its memory enhancement. Anthocyanins, or the flavonoids in blueberries, are what improve memory function.
In one 2011 study (1), wild blueberry juice was consumed over a 12-week period. The study found that memory improved for adults who had early memory decline. The study suggests that continued supplementation or addition of blueberry into a person’s diet will help mitigate neurodegeneration.
Blueberries also help stave off cognitive aging.
Broccoli is a nutrient-rich food that can be substituted for kale or spinach to provide the same memory-related benefits. Adding broccoli into a diet means that there’s an addition of the nutrient lutein.
Lutein is found in the brain’s tissue, and it is a nutrient that must be consumed because the body cannot make it on its own.
Studies link lutein to:
- Improved cognitive function in adults (2)
- Improved focus
- Protecting the brain, providing more cognitive resources
Researchers have found that people can begin to suffer from cognitive decline as early as in their 30s.
Johns Hopkins University conducted a study that found caffeine has a positive impact on memory (3). Participants in the study were asked to look at a series of images and were given 200mg of caffeine, or about two cups of coffee, after.
The participants were asked to look at images and determine if they saw the images the day before during testing.
The double-blind study found that caffeine was able to provide a deeper interaction with memory. Specifically, pattern separation was improved, allowing participants to recognize images and patterns better than the group that didn’t drink coffee or take caffeine pills.
4. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate also contains caffeine, so there is some overlap with coffee and dark chocolate on memory. Cocoa in the sweet chocolate is filled with caffeine and flavonoids, or a powerful antioxidant that is responsible for the brain-boosting effects of dark chocolate.
The flavonoids may be able to:
- Enhance memory
- Slow age-related mental decline
A study of some 900 people measured participants’ mental tasks following dark chocolate consumption (4). The study found that the participants performed better than those that didn’t consume chocolate as often on mental task tests. Memory was also improved.
Dark chocolate can also have positive effects on a person’s immunity, mood, memory, inflammation and stress.
After two hours of dark chocolate consumption, participants in one study were found to have improved memory and reaction time. Long-term consumption, defined by three months of intake or more, was also found to improve testing performance for adults between the ages of 50 and 69 (5).
Eating eggs provides the brain with much-needed nutrients that are lacking in a traditional diet. Egge are packed with:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
Choline is an especially important nutrient and has been the focus of two main studies on mental function and memory (6). Traditional diets lack choline, which should be consumed in quantities of:
- 425 mg for women per day
- 550 mg for men per day
Egg yolks alone contain 112 mg of choline. B vitamins are another key nutrient in eggs that have been linked to a slow in mental decline and a boost in mood. Studies indicate that a deficiency in these key vitamins leads to depression.
Folate deficiencies are found in people with dementia, so adequate intake is recommended.
Vitamin B12 helps the brain regulate sugar levels and also synthesize brain chemicals. Since eggs are a good source of all of these vitamins and nutrients, it’s a good addition to a person’s diet.
Fatty fish are one of the best additions to a person’s diet if they want to improve their brain health. The omega-3 fatty acids are the key compound in the fish that promotes brain health, but it’s important to eat the right types of fish:
Omega-3 fatty acids are utilized by the brain to create new nerve and brain cells. These fats have also been shown to improve learning and memory (7). The brain is also 60% comprised of fat, with around 50% of these fats being omega-3 fatty acids.
There’s some evidence that fatty fish can help defend against Alzheimer’s disease (8).
Additional research suggests that deficiency in these fats is associated with learning impairments.
7. Green Tea
Green tea is one of the most recommended additions to a person’s diet because of its potential health benefits. The caffeine in the tea is beneficial to the brain, but there are additional components that strengthen and protect the brain:
L-theanine is shown to improve the brain’s alpha waves (9). These waves are linked to relaxation.
Rich in antioxidants, green tea contains polyphenols, which have been the focus of numerous studies. Polyphenols and antioxidants protect the brain, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (10).
A 2014 study found that green tea improved working memory and parieto-frontal connectivity (11).
Herbs are an easy addition to a person’s diet. Multiple herbs have been linked to improvement in memory and mood. Chamomile, lavender, peppermint and rosemary have been the focus of numerous studies.
Rosemary’s aroma alone was found to increase memory in participants over 65. The study, conducted by Northumbria University’s Department of Psychology, included 150 adults that were all over the age of 65 and healthy (12).
Researchers found that just the smell of rosemary was able to improve prospective memory by as much as 15%.
Memory is still being studied to better understand how working memory works and what humans can do to improve their memory. Foods can be eaten, alongside supplements, that can help improve memory, according to the data above. A healthy diet is an important part of memory, but a healthy lifestyle can also lead to memory and cognitive improvement.
- Krikorian, R., Shidler, M. D., Nash, T. A., Kalt, W., Vinqvist-Tymchuk, M. R., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2010). Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 58(7), 3996–4000. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf9029332
- Broccoli, Kale Could Slow Cognitive Decline, Study Finds. (2017, August 2). WTTW News. https://news.wttw.com/2017/08/01/broccoli-kale-could-slow-cognitive-decline-study-finds
- Gatlin, L. (2014, January 12). Caffeine has positive effect on memory, Johns Hopkins researchers say. The Hub. https://hub.jhu.edu/2014/01/12/caffeine-enhances-memory/
- Crichton, G. E., Elias, M. F., & Alkerwi, A. (2016). Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study. Appetite, 100, 126–132. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.010
- Shmerling, R. H. (2020, August 18). Your brain on chocolate. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/your-brain-on-chocolate-2017081612179
- Nurk E, Refsum H, Bjelland I, et al. Plasma free choline, betaine and cognitive performance: the Hordaland Health Study. Br J Nutr. 2013;109(3):511-519. doi:10.1017/S0007114512001249
- Wysoczański, T., Sokoła-Wysoczańska, E., Pękala, J., Lochyński, S., Czyż, K., Bodkowski, R., Herbinger, G., Patkowska-Sokoła, B., & Librowski, T. (2016). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and their Role in Central Nervous System – A Review. Current medicinal chemistry, 23(8), 816–831. https://doi.org/10.2174/0929867323666160122114439
- Morris, M. C., Evans, D. A., Tangney, C. C., Bienias, J. L., & Wilson, R. S. (2005). Fish consumption and cognitive decline with age in a large community study. Archives of neurology, 62(12), 1849–1853. https://doi.org/10.1001/archneur.62.12.noc50161
- Nobre, A. C., Rao, A., & Owen, G. N. (2008). L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition, 17 Suppl 1, 167–168.
- Weinreb, O., Mandel, S., Amit, T., & Youdim, M. B. (2004). Neurological mechanisms of green tea polyphenols in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 15(9), 506–516. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2004.05.002
- Schmidt, A., Hammann, F., Wölnerhanssen, B., Meyer-Gerspach, A. C., Drewe, J., Beglinger, C., & Borgwardt, S. (2014). Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing. Psychopharmacology, 231(19), 3879–3888. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-014-3526-1
- Northumbria University. (2020, August 26). Herbs that can boost your mood and memory. https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/about-us/news-events/news/2016/04/herbs-that-can-boost-your-mood-and-memory/