- Written by Nancy J. Schaaf, RN Nancy J. Schaaf, RN
When I was a little girl, my mother told me fish was “brain food.” I thought it was just a way to get me to eat fish. As I got older, I discovered Mom was right.
Our brain health, cognitive function, and mental well-being depend on various factors, including daily nutritional intake. The brain uses about 20% of the body’s calories, requiring plenty of good fuel to maintain concentration throughout the day.
The best brain foods are the same foods that protect the heart and blood vessels. A diet rich in minerals, vitamins, and omega-3s helps build and repair brain cells, and antioxidants reduce cellular stress and inflammation linked to brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Eating a brain-boosting diet helps keep this crucial organ healthy and improves our ability to do specific mental tasks like memory and concentration.
As the brain is the control center of our body, it regulates the heart and lungs and enables us to think, move, and feel. It is vital to consume certain foods to keep the brain in peak working condition.
Fatty fish tops the food list that is optimal for good brain health. Salmon, trout, albacore tuna, sardines, and herring are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids our brain uses to create brain and nerve cells.
Additionally, these healthy fats are essential for memory and learning. Omega-3s slow age-related mental decline and help ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
Research indicates that people who eat fish regularly develop more nerve cells that control decision-making, memory, and emotion. Fatty fish is an excellent choice for brain health.
Coffee and Green Tea
Coffee’s caffeine and antioxidants help support brain health. Caffeine has many positive effects on the brain, including increased alertness, as it blocks adenosine, a chemical that makes us sleepy. Caffeine also boosts some “feel-good” neurotransmitters, such as dopamine.
Drinking coffee is also linked to a reduced risk of neurological diseases. The most significant risk reduction was seen in those adults who consume 3-4 cups daily.
The caffeine in green tea boosts brain function and improves alertness, performance, memory, and focus. Green tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps reduce anxiety, allowing us to feel more relaxed without feeling tired. It is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that protect the brain from mental decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Blueberries provide numerous health benefits. Blueberries provide anthocyanins, a group of plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress and inflammation, contributing to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
Blueberries help improve memory and specific cognitive processes in older adults.
Broccoli is packed with potent plant compounds, including antioxidants.
It is also very high in vitamin K, which some studies of older adults linked to better memory and cognitive status. Broccoli contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, protecting the brain against damage.
Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Powder
Dark chocolate has a 70% cocoa content and is packed with brain-boosting compounds, including flavonoids, caffeine, and antioxidants. Flavonoids — antioxidant plant compounds — enhance memory and slow age-related mental decline.
Chocolate is also a mood booster. According to research, participants who ate chocolate experienced increased positive feelings. (No surprise!)
Eggs are a source of several nutrients for brain health, including vitamins B12 and B6, folate, and choline.
Choline is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and memory. Studies found that higher choline intakes were linked to better memory and mental function. Eating eggs is an easy way to provide the body with enough choline, as egg yolks contain the most concentrated source of this nutrient.
The B vitamins found in eggs slow the progression of mental decline in older adults by lowering homocysteine levels. This amino acid is linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Many foods help keep the brain healthy. Some foods have antioxidants that help protect our brain from damage, while others contain nutrients that support memory and brain development. We can support brain health and boost alertness, memory, and mood by including these foods in the diet.
Nancy J. Schaaf, a retired RN, worked as a school nurse, a nurse supervisor at a men’s prison, and a health educator. She earned her BSN at Edinboro University. She is a freelance writer whose health articles appear in magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. She can be reached at email@example.com.