Get ready to supercharge your brain! Just like every organ in our body, our brain craves the right nutrition to perform at its peak.
Imagine unlocking the full potential of your mind and enhancing your memory simply by incorporating some nutrient-rich foods into your diet.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, the good news is that it’s not!
Below, I’m going to reveal the 7 ultimate brain-boosting foods you need to start eating today.
Prepare to transform your cognitive function and keep your brain in tip-top shape.
- Whole foods like lean proteins, fruits & vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds that are good for our overall health are also good for our brain health.
- The nutrients most researched for improving brain health are omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, choline, vitamin E, and B vitamins, which are present in higher quantities in certain foods.
- Beyond diet, other lifestyle factors can add to or detract from brain health and memory, such as sleep, stress management, and alcohol and drug use.
Understanding How Diet Impacts Brain Health and Memory
We all use our brains every day.
You’re using your brain right now to read and understand this article; I used my brain to research and write this article.
But, if you’re like me and many others, you take these abilities for granted, without spending much time thinking about how these abilities are possible, and how much diet has an impact on your mental capabilities.
What Is Brain Health And How Does It Work?
In basic terms, “brain health” describes the ability of the brain to function as intended, free of injury, illness, disease, or disorder. But how do we know when the brain is functioning as intended?
The functions of the brain are often described as “cognitive processes”, these processes include thinking, reasoning, perceiving, imagining, and remembering. The brain is also responsible for emotional regulation.
When the brain is damaged or diseased, it can lead to impairments in one or more of these areas. Cognitive decline or cognitive defects can show up as confusion, delirium, dementia, amnesia, forgetfulness, or inability to focus.
On the other hand, when we are able to think clearly and calmly, apply reason and logic, to express ourselves creatively and appreciate creative works, and remember past events and experiences, we have good brain health.
What Is Memory And How Does It Work?
While we all tend to have a shared understanding of what “memory” means and what a memory is, it’s not actually well-defined or even well-understood in the scientific literature.
In general terms, memory is “the faculty of the mind by which data or information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed” as well as “a particular act of recall or recollection.”
So, it’s both what we remember, and how we are able to remember it. Our ability to encode, store, and retrieve information relies on our brain health, so memory and brain health are inextricably linked.
The Impact Of Diet On Brain Health And Memory
Brain health, which encompasses mental health, cannot be viewed separately from physical health.
Just like our heart or lungs, our brain is a physical organ in our body, and the same elements that impact our physical health, like diet and exercise, will impact our brain health too.
For this reason, it’s important to focus on an overall balanced diet with an emphasis on minimally processed whole foods.
Within those whole foods, there are certain foods/categories of foods that show even higher benefits for cognitive function, and I’ll discuss the top seven in the next section.
The Top 7 Foods for Boosting Brain Power and Improving Memory
1. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation in the brain and improve cognitive function.
They are also important for the development and maintenance of brain cells. Regular consumption of fatty fish has been associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline and improved memory.
Current research is still insufficient to provide recommendations for omega-3 intake to support brain health specifically, but the American Heart Association recommends at least two 3.5 oz (100-gram) servings of oily fish each week.
Blueberries are often referred to as “brain berries” due to their high antioxidant content. Antioxidants help protect our brain from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can accumulate and damage brain cells and impair cognitive function.
Blueberries are also rich in anthocyanins, which are compounds that have been shown to improve memory and cognitive function.
Lastly, they also have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce inflammation in the brain and promote brain health.
Just one-third cup of blueberries per day can mitigate the risk of diseases and health conditions.
3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds, like almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, are excellent sources of healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants, which are beneficial for brain health.
They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and other nutrients that help improve cognitive function and protect the brain from free radicals.
In this study, getting at least five servings of nuts per week (approximately 30 grams per serving) was associated with better cognitive status.
This suggests that incorporating nuts and seeds as a snack or adding them to meals can provide a brain-boosting benefit.
4. Dark Chocolate
Good news for chocolate lovers! Dark chocolate, especially that with a high cocoa content (70% cocoa or greater), is rich in flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that can improve brain function.
However, it’s important to consume dark chocolate in moderation, as it can be high in calories and sugar.
I recommend a daily serving size of 30-30 grams.to promote brain health (as well as cardiovascular health and other benefits).
Related Article: 10 Surprising Benefits Of Eating Dark Chocolate Every Day, Backed By Science
5. Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and broccoli, are packed with nutrients that are beneficial for brain health.
They are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and other essential nutrients, including vitamin K, lutein, and folate, which have been linked to improved cognitive function and memory.
Just one serving per day of leafy greens (two cups) may help to slow cognitive decline.
6. Whole Grains
Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole wheat, are complex carbohydrates that provide a steady supply of energy to our brain. They are also rich in fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and promotes brain health.
Whole grains are a healthier option compared to refined grains, such as white rice and white bread, as they provide more nutrients that are important for brain function, such as vitamins B and E, as well as trace minerals and antioxidants.
Sticking to the recommended guideline of at least 3 servings of whole grains per day (one serving is ~ ½ cup of cooked grains) lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 53 percent.
Eggs also contain other nutrients, such as protein, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, that can support brain health.
The American Heart Association recommends one egg as a serving size, so it seems as if one egg per day could keep heart disease and cognitive decline away.
Incorporating Brain-Boosting Foods into Your Diet
Knowing which foods to eat to boost your brain health is only one part of the equation, the other part is actually incorporating them. So here are four easy ways to make them easier to consume:
1. Purchase Them
To make brain-boosting foods more convenient, the first step is to purchase them to have them on hand in your home. To make this happen, write them on your grocery shopping list and head to the store.
Fatty fish, blueberries, leafy greens, and eggs need to be refrigerated and consumed within 3-5 days for optimal freshness, so you’ll want to restock these items weekly.
On the other hand, nuts, seeds, and whole grains will keep well in tightly sealed, opaque containers stored in a cool, dark place like a pantry, so you can buy these items in larger quantities and enjoy them for several months.
Finally, dark chocolate (70% cocoa content or more) also stores well, but keep in mind that you may be better off buying just one bar at a time, or individually wrapped squares, to assist with portion control.
2. Prep Them
Once you’ve purchased your brain-boosting foods, you want to make sure they won’t go to waste by preparing them for consumption making them easier to grab when you’re hungry.
Here are some ways to prep your brain-boosting foods:
- Buy pre-washed, pre-chopped leafy greens
- Rinse and cook whole grains
- Wash and chop the vegetables
- Rinse the blueberries
- Cook the fish
- Hard boil some eggs for snacks or to add to salads
- Buy nuts and seeds that are already shelled
Dark chocolate is the one exception unless you want to prepare single-serving containers with 20-30 grams of chocolate in each to reduce the temptation to eat an entire bar in one sitting.
By prepping these foods in advance you’ll be more likely to eat them, rather than letting them sit in your fridge or pantry until they expire.
3. Plan Them
Even if you’ve gone through the trouble of purchasing and preparing your brain-boosting foods, that effort can go to waste if you don’t have a clear plan in mind for when and how you’re going to eat them.
Think ahead to the next few days (or the entire week) and consider what meals and snacks will work best for your schedule (check out my meal plan below for inspiration).
4. Seek Them Out
Lastly, when you’re eating out at restaurants or having meals with family and friends, look for brain-boosting foods to include.
However, if there are no brain-boosting foods available, then don’t stress about it. Simply make them a priority at other meals and snacks that you have more control over.
Sample Meal Plan For A Brain-Boosting Diet
The following meal plan contains all seven brain-boosting foods listed above, and includes the full recommended daily serving(s) for each food.
- Breakfast: 1 egg (any style), 1 bowl of oatmeal (½ cup whole grain rolled oats) with ⅓ cup of blueberries, and ½ oz (14 grams) chopped walnuts.
- Snack: ¾ cup plain yogurt with fresh berries, 2 squares (20 grams) dark chocolate, and 1 tbsp chia seeds.
- Lunch: 2 cups mixed leafy greens with 4 oz (112 grams) of cooked chicken breast, tossed with a dressing of olive oil & balsamic vinegar (1 tbsp. of each), and a side of cooked whole grain brown rice (~½ cup cooked).
- Snack: 1 slice whole grain toast spread with 1 tbsp (15 grams) natural almond butter and sliced apple.
- Supper: 4 oz grilled salmon with wilted spinach, served with 5 oz, baked sweet potato, and 2 tsp grass-fed butter.
Other Factors That Affect Brain Health and Memory
In addition to including these brain-boosting foods in our diet, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management, as these factors also play a significant role in brain health.
- Physical activity: regular physical activity may play a major role in preventing or delaying cognitive decline. Those who maintain an active lifestyle better maintain cognitive function and brain tissue integrity; more specifically, it improves memory.
- Sleep: Inadequate sleep (fewer than 7 hours) is associated with lower cognitive performance and increased irritability. Additionally, getting too much sleep (more than 8 hours) also impairs cognitive function in all areas except memory. So, it’s important to aim for 8 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Stress: high levels of stress can negatively impact mood, focus, and memory, so it’s important to use stress management techniques such as controlled breathing, meditation, or simply getting a good belly laugh and spending time with loved ones to offset the negative effects of stress.
- Medications: certain medications may improve or impair cognitive performance. Talk with your doctor if you notice signs or symptoms that your medications are negatively impacting your memory or focus.
- Alcohol & illicit drugs: anyone who’s had more than one or two alcoholic drinks in one sitting will be aware of the progressive cognitive impairments that result from ingesting alcohol. However, it’s not limited to short-term impacts.
Even moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with more widespread adverse effects on the brain. On the basis of brain health, there is no safe or recommended amount of alcohol.
Similarly, all drugs of abuse act by altering neurotransmission in the brain, taking the brain away from its normal and optimal state of functioning.
Abstinence from alcohol and illicit drugs is your best line of defense when it comes to boosting your brain power and improving your memory.
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.