Having a healthy brain is an essential aspect of your overall health and well-being. Maintaining good brain health can help improve your memory, mood, and mental health while also preventing cognitive diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's. Foods such as leafy greens, fatty fish, coffee, and more can help you achieve good brain health.
It is important to meet with your doctor or healthcare provider to determine your specific nutritional needs. With a Mira membership, you can access urgent care visits, affordable lab testing, and virtual care for as low as $25 per month. Keep your brain health a priority, and sign up for Mira today!
7 Best Foods for a Healthy Brain
As we age, our brains also naturally change, leading to differences in memory, mood, and other cognitive functions. How our brains change is a function of many factors, including genetics, hormones, and lifestyle. As such, it is important to take control of your lifestyle and optimize it to alleviate the age-related stresses on your brain.
One of the major causes of cognitive decline is oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when your body produces too many damaging chemicals and not enough good chemicals to counteract them, or antioxidants. Antioxidants can be found in several different ingredients, and making sure they are included in your diet is a great way to improve your brain health. Consuming foods with ingredients such as folic acid, vitamin K, and omega-3 fatty acids are all easy ways to protect your brain from damage and aging.
Listed below is a summary table with some foods and their corresponding nutrients that are best for maintaining good brain health. In the rest of this article, we describe these seven foods and how they improve your brain health in more detail.
7 Foods to Improve Brain Health
|Food||Active Ingredient||Effect on Brain|
|Leafy Greens||Vitamin K and Folate||Slows cognitive decline|
|Fatty fish||Omega-3 Fatty Acids||Slows cognitive decline|
|Coffee||Caffeine||Improves concentration and mental health|
|Dark Chocolate||Flavanols||Improves memory and cognition|
|Berries||Resveratrol||Slows cognitive decline|
Dark leafy greens and plant-based foods are a rich source of healthy nutrients such as folate and vitamin K. Vitamin K helps reduce nerve cell death and overall inflammation in your body. This is important, as inflammation is often the root cause of many brain-related disorders. Folate supplementation has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect and, as a result, improve cognition.
According to the literature, eating just one serving a day of green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, lettuce, and collards can significantly benefit your brain health. The antioxidant effects of these nutrients found in leafy greens can slow cognitive decline and protect you from diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
Fatty fish are an important source of healthy fatty acids essential to brain function. Just two servings a week of good fatty fish, such as salmon, anchovies, whitefish, and mackerel, can positively impact your overall health. These fish contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which play a significant role in neural protection. In your body, omega-3 fatty acids are essential to maintaining the integrity of the neurons in your brain. By preserving your brain's communication pathways, fatty fish can improve your memory and learning.
Although more research is necessary to fully prove the link between slowing cognitive decline and fatty fish, evidence suggests that patients with Alzheimer's Disease often lack omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, Omega-3 fatty acids have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and have proven to benefit your heart health.
There are many ways in which coffee can help elevate your brain function. The caffeine in coffee and its natural antioxidant properties can have a positive effect on mental health and productivity. The following is a list of potential benefits of drinking coffee.
- Coffee protects your neurons against damage and fights inflammation
- Coffee increases cognitive performance and memory
- Coffee can decrease depression
By reducing oxidation and inflammation, coffee has been associated with decreased dementia progression. In animal models, coffee's antioxidant properties have led to a decline in amyloid-plaques, one of the primary causes of dementia.
The caffeine in coffee can also have a positive effect on memory. According to research, caffeine consumption leads to significant memory enhancement in young adults. Additionally, caffeine can block your brain from binding with chemicals that lead to depression and fatigue. Caffeine also stimulates your nervous system by elevating levels of "feel-good" chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin.
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Dark chocolate or other cocoa products contain chemicals called flavanols. Flavanols have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can improve memory and cognition. Flavanols' chemical properties allow them to interact directly with areas of our brain dedicated to learning and memory.
Parts of our brain such as the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, and cerebellum are especially at risk for age-related cognitive decline. As evidenced by a 2017 study, Flavanols can counteract damage against neurons, the brain's signaling cells. When choosing chocolate, make sure to consume chocolate made of 70% dark chocolate or higher as it contains the most flavanols.
Green tea especially has been attributed to increased focus and alertness while protecting your neurons because it contains the highest amount of L-theanine. This unique chemical significantly increases mental alertness.
In animal models, it has been demonstrated that L-theanine improves behavior under stress conditions and improves memory and learning ability. L-theanine can readily cross the blood-brain barrier and increase chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Tea, like chocolate, is also a potent source of flavanols, which will help combat harmful chemicals in your body. Catechin is a type of flavanol that is highly present in tea, which has proved to have significant neurological benefits.
Berries like blueberries or grapes contain a high amount of antioxidants. Specifically, they contain resveratrol, a natural chemical that helps prevent inflammation and protect your body against damaging chemicals.
Although more research is needed to back up using resveratrol clinically, some evidence shows that resveratrol can benefit patients with Alzheimer's Disease. While the cause of Alzheimer's is still largely unknown, many people believe that it is caused by an abnormal accumulation of proteins called amyloid. Resveratrol has the potential to decrease this build-up of amyloid and has promising potential in delaying the onset of cognitive disorders.
Turmeric, also known as curcumin, has been extensively studied as a treatment for various medical conditions across the world. In the context of brain health, curcumin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can work to improve cognitive function in patients already diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's. Curcumin has been shown to improve mood and is currently being studied as a treatment for mild depression.
Studies have demonstrated that in countries such as India, where turmeric consumption is much higher, the incidence of dementia is significantly lower than that of European countries or the U.S.
Best Foods for a Healthy Brain Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are some frequently asked questions regarding what foods to eat to improve your brain health. If you have additional questions about what foods you should consume or avoid, you should contact your healthcare provider.
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What foods are most damaging to my brain?
Although many foods might be beneficial to your brain function, there are also a lot of ingredients and chemicals present in your everyday foods that could damage your brain.
As a general rule of thumb, foods with excess sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause inflammation. They can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
Foods with high amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates include white bread, soda, and breakfast cereals. High blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes can lead to disruptions in the formation of brain cells and increase the risk of cognitive disorders such as dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.
What is the effect of alcohol on the brain?
Excess consumption of alcohol can alter and disrupt the neurons and your brain. Long-term and chronic alcohol abuse can lead to a reduction in brain volume as a whole. When your brain shrinks, you lose a lot of essential communication pathways, which can result in cognitive decline.
Although some alcohol in moderation can lower cardiovascular disease, large alcohol consumption can lead to neurodegeneration. It is essential to monitor your alcohol consumption and see a therapist or physician if you are concerned about your drinking habits.
What are other ways to prevent cognitive decline?
Although eating healthy is a significant factor in preventing cognitive decline, there are many other ways to decrease your risk for neurological diseases. Oxidative stress, or an accumulation of harmful chemicals in your body, has a major role in the progression of neurological disorders like dementia and Alzheimer's.
Many factors can cause oxidative stress, but obesity, smoking, and age are the main culprits. As such, interventions that combat oxidative stress in the body can be highly effective against cognitive decline. Besides a healthy diet of natural antioxidants, the best ways to reduce oxidative stress include regular exercise, sleep, mental stimulation, and strong and consistent social connections.
Ultimately, it would be best if you prioritized your brain health. Age-related cognitive decline is a serious public health issue and including certain foods in your diet is a great way to improve brain health. Being mindful about the food you consume every day will benefit your mental function and have a positive effect on your entire body. However, it is essential to note that certain foods should be avoided or consumed in moderation depending on your overall health, medications, and pre-existing conditions.
Therefore, it is fundamental that you check in with a primary care physician to ensure that your health is kept in check. Especially if you feel that you are at risk for cognitive decline, getting medical attention as early as possible can help slow the onset of any neurological disorder significantly. Mira offers $5 virtual care appointments and other affordable urgent care and lab testing options. Sign up today to get started.
Sophie is a 2024 Pharm D. candidate studying pharmacy at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. She has a passion for healthcare and writing and hopes to make meaningful contributions to healthcare transparency and accessibility. In her free time, she likes to take care of her houseplants, cook, and hang out with her cat.