The Top 10 Foods that Boost Your Brain Health
By Charlotte Genetta, Registered Dietitian, Virtua Nutrition
These 10 diverse super foods have one amazing thing in common: they all contain brain-protective nutrients that can seriously impact how you think and feel, and stave off some of the negative brain changes associated with aging. To boost your brain power, start adding these foods into your diet—in moderation, of course.
BlueberriesIn adults, the hippocampus (the part of the brain that’s a center for memories, emotions and spatial orientation) loses about 1% of its volume each year. Recent research has shown that eating blueberries, which contain brain-preserving phytochemicals, can actually prevent and possibly even reverse the shrinkage that’s associated with the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. See how you can incorporate them into everything from sandwiches to salads.
AvocadosWe’ve all heard that avocados are heart healthy, but it’s important to remember that anything that’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. This is because healthy blood vessels are a crucial component of a healthy brain. Avocados have a low-glycemic index, which means they have minimal impact on blood sugar. They’re also loaded with healthy phytochemicals and monounsaturated (good) fat, which help the body absorb key vitamins. Learn how to make heart-healthy guacamole.
SalmonInflammation is bad for your brain, and the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon are well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Recent studies have even suggested that omega-3 fatty acids might help with depression, ADHD, and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. If you can afford it, wild salmon has even more of these nutrients than farmed salmon. For a delicious way to prepare it, here's a recipe for salmon with cilantro pesto.
Beans are high in folate and B-vitamins, and research suggests these nutrients help prevent or slow brain shrinkage. Eat any bean you like—they’re all great for you. Chick peas, northern white beans and black beans are great in salads and provide a healthy base for dips like hummus. What’s more, the high soluble fiber in beans feeds the good bacteria in your gut that in turn lowers inflammation throughout your body.
As you eat dark chocolate, the helpful nutrients (flavonoids) immediately begin to improve blood flow to your brain. These nutrients can boost your working memory and problem-solving skills. They also increase the amount of nitric oxide that is produced by the cells that line the inside of all blood vessels. This nitric oxide has an anti-inflammatory effect. I recommend cooking with unsweetened dark chocolate powder because it’s packed with helpful flavonoids and has no sugar.
Coffee and Tea
Both coffee and tea can decrease the calcification of blood vessels. Tea is even better, since it has less caffeine than coffee and also contains a phytochemical called theanine, which has both a calming and stimulating effect, and that also increases dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical.
TurmericBright yellow turmeric is a spice commonly found in Indian curries and mustard, but you can easily add it to any number of dishes. I sprinkle a bit of turmeric into almost everything I cook, as the flavor is mild and it blends well with almost all soups and sauces.
Turmeric helps remove a specific plaque in the brain that contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. I recommend that you eat the real spice and avoid the supplements. Only the spice itself has the antioxidant properties that are most effective in boosting brain health.
Cooked tomatoes contain high amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant found in many red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables that reduces oxidative stress, which is damaging to your brain. Tomato sauce and sofrito, two popular Italian and Latin-American foods, are great ways to load up on lycopene. Or, see how you can add tomatoes to summer salads with a fresh twist.
Pistachios are very high in vitamin E, which has well-documented brain-protective qualities. The natural oil in pistachios can also prevent brain inflammation, and one recent study even suggests it can reduce frontal lobe shrinkage in those who’ve experience certain brain injuries.
Updated February 15, 2017