9 Foods That Support Brain Health
Diet plays an important role in your overall health, and that includes your brain health. Because the brain is the control center of the body, it’s important to take care of it. Eating the right foods will ensure that your brain gets all of the nutrients it needs to stay in optimal working condition.
These nine foods are nutrient-rich and help support brain health.
1. Fatty Fish
Arguably the most famous brain food, fatty fish like salmon are rich in brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s build membranes around all cells in the body, and that includes your brain cells.
One study from 2017 found that people who had high levels of omega-3s also had improved blood flow to the brain (1).
Salmon is just one of many types of fatty fish. Other examples include:
Vegetarians and vegans can get omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseeds, soybeans, nuts and other types of seeds.
Leafy greens like kale are rich in nutrients that support brain function and health. Kale in particular contains glucosinolates, which has neuroprotective effects.
Kale is also rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants:
- Vitamins A, K, B6 and C
- Flavonoids, like kaempferol and quercetin
Along with all of these nutrients, kale contains a small amount of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic-acid.
Low in calories, kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
A popular breakfast food, eggs are rich in a wide range of nutrients, including those that boost brain power. Specifically, eggs are rich in:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Folic acid
Choline is needed to create acetylcholine, which helps regulate memory and mood (2). The other vitamins and nutrients in eggs are believed to help prevent cognitive impairment and brain shrinkage.
B vitamins play an important role in brain health and can help slow mental decline in the elderly (3).
Like kale, broccoli is rich in glucosinolates, which, when broken down, produces isothiocyanates. These can help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and lowers oxidative stress.
Known as a superfood, broccoli is nutrient-rich, containing:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
A one-cup serving of broccoli delivers more than the recommended daily intake of vitamin K, which is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps form sphingolipids. Sphingolipids is a type of fat found in brain cells.
Studies in older adults have found that higher levels of vitamin K results in better memory (4).
Loaded with antioxidants and vitamins, berries are an excellent brain food. Many types of berries contain the antioxidants caffeic acid, anthocyanin, quercetin and catechin. These antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
A review from 2014 (5) found that berries can reduce inflammation in the body, improve brain cell communication, reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease and improve plasticity. Plasticity helps your brain cells create new connections, which improves memory and learning.
Berries that can help improve brain health include:
It’s easy to incorporate berries into your diet, and you only need a handful to enjoy their brain-boosting benefits.
One of the most popular beverages on the planet, coffee is well-known for its focus-boosting benefits. It’s the caffeine in coffee that gives you a nice jolt of energy and helps improve your concentration. It can also increase your brain’s ability to process information.
It’s not surprising that millions of people around the world rely on coffee to give them the energy to get through the day.
Along with caffeine, coffee is also rich in antioxidants, which further helps support brain health.
A 2016 study (6) linked coffee consumption with a lower risk of stroke, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Turmeric is a popular culinary spice and is the key ingredient in curry powder. But this spice offers more than just flavor; it can also boost brain health.
Turmeric contains curcumin, which has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly affect the brain. The earthy spice is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The research surrounding curcumin and its effects on the brain is growing. The compound has been linked to several brain benefits, including:
- Brain cell growth. Curcumin increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which aids in brain cell growth (7).
- Improved memory. Curcumin may help eliminate amyloid plaques that lead to Alzheimer’s disease and may also help improve memory (8).
To improve the absorption of the curcumin, turmeric should be paired with black pepper. Black pepper contains piperine, which boosts curcumin absorption by 2,000%.
8. Pumpkin Seeds
Rich in antioxidants, pumpkin seeds help protect against free radical damage in the brain. But these tasty seeds also contain other vital nutrients, like zinc, iron, copper and magnesium.
All of these nutrients play an important role in brain health.
- Magnesium improves learning and memory. Low levels of this nutrient have been linked to migraines and epilepsy.
- Zinc plays an important role in nerve communication. Deficiencies have been linked to depression, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Iron, which supports healthy cognitive function and prevents brain fog.
- Copper, which controls nerve signals. Low levels of copper have been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegenerative disorders.
Eating nuts can support both brain and heart health. That’s because nuts are rich in healthy fat, proteins and other nutrients the brain needs for optimal performance, such as vitamin E.
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that can help protect against free radical damage while preserving cognitive function.
Research has shown that nuts can boost cognitive function and help prevent neurodegenerative disease (9).
All nuts have health benefits, but walnuts have an advantage because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Eating the right foods can help support and even improve brain health. In general, eating a diet rich in a variety of foods will help ensure that your brain gets all of the nutrients it needs to work at peak performance.
- Amen, D. G., Harris, W. S., Kidd, P. M., Meysami, S., & Raji, C. A. (2017). Quantitative Erythrocyte Omega-3 EPA Plus DHA Levels are Related to Higher Regional Cerebral Blood Flow on Brain SPECT. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD, 58(4), 1189–1199. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-170281
- Nurk, E., Refsum, H., Bjelland, I., Drevon, C. A., Tell, G. S., Ueland, P. M., Vollset, S. E., Engedal, K., Nygaard, H. A., & Smith, D. A. (2013). Plasma free choline, betaine and cognitive performance: the Hordaland Health Study. The British journal of nutrition, 109(3), 511–519. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114512001249
- Smith, A. D., Smith, S. M., de Jager, C. A., Whitbread, P., Johnston, C., Agacinski, G., Oulhaj, A., Bradley, K. M., Jacoby, R., & Refsum, H. (2010). Homocysteine-lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. PloS one, 5(9), e12244. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0012244
- Presse, N., Belleville, S., Gaudreau, P., Greenwood, C. E., Kergoat, M. J., Morais, J. A., Payette, H., Shatenstein, B., & Ferland, G. (2013). Vitamin K status and cognitive function in healthy older adults. Neurobiology of aging, 34(12), 2777–2783. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2013.05.031
- Subash, S., Essa, M. M., Al-Adawi, S., Memon, M. A., Manivasagam, T., & Akbar, M. (2014). Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural regeneration research, 9(16), 1557–1566. https://doi.org/10.4103/1673-5374.139483
- Nehlig A. (2016). Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients?. Practical neurology, 16(2), 89–95. https://doi.org/10.1136/practneurol-2015-001162
- Dong S, Zeng Q, Mitchell ES, Xiu J, Duan Y, et al. (2012) Curcumin Enhances Neurogenesis and Cognition in Aged Rats: Implications for Transcriptional Interactions Related to Growth and Synaptic Plasticity. PLOS ONE 7(2): e31211. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031211
- Zhang, L., Fiala, M., Cashman, J., Sayre, J., Espinosa, A., Mahanian, M., Zaghi, J., Badmaev, V., Graves, M. C., Bernard, G., & Rosenthal, M. (2006). Curcuminoids enhance amyloid-beta uptake by macrophages of Alzheimer’s disease patients. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD, 10(1), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.3233/jad-2006-10101
- Pribis, P., & Shukitt-Hale, B. (2014). Cognition: the new frontier for nuts and berries. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 100 Suppl 1, 347S–52S. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.113.071506