Best Diet for Brain Health

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kevin Aister DO

Apr 21, 2020

The connection between nutrition and good cognitive health is well supported by current research. While nobody can promise any specific improvements from changing your diet, certain foods and food supplements are associated with increases in cognition, mood, and other aspects of brain health.

Leafy green vegetables

Everyone knows that you need to eat your greens to stay healthy — but research shows that leafy greens may be even better for you than previously thought. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, and cabbage are loaded with brain-boosting compounds: antioxidants like beta-carotene, crucial vitamins such as folate and vitamin K, and other essential nutrients. Consuming these foods, research suggests, could keep cognitive decline at bay.

Coffee

You already know that a cup of coffee perks you up and chases away the befuddlement many of us experience in the morning. According to research, coffee’s effects may be more significant than you might suspect. The primary stimulant in coffee is, of course, caffeine.

Caffeine works by blocking adenosine, the chemical in your body that lets your brain know that you are fatigued. With your adenosine receptors temporarily out of action, you feel less sleepy. Caffeine is well-known to improve concentration and help to lift your mood, although it can produce anxiety and nervousness in sensitive individuals.

Coffee also contains other compounds that may boost your well-being in the longer term. In particular, coffee consumption is associated with lower rates of depression, dementia, and even Parkinson’s disease. Exactly how or why coffee might prevent these conditions is not well understood; however, it does seem that regular coffee consumption may help protect your brain from some degenerative diseases. More research is needed to make any specific claims.

Fatty fish

It’s always disappointing when you have to give up particularly delicious food for health reasons. Fortunately, the opposite sometimes happens, and it turns out that a firm favorite is also good for you. Fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which have many beneficial effects. In particular, some research supports the consumption of oily fish to protect you against degenerative brain disorders later in life.

Walnuts

Tree nuts, in general, are excellent sources of healthy fats and protein. Research from the last few years suggests that walnuts, in particular, may be an excellent snack to choose if you want to support brain health. Walnuts are known to contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a valuable fatty acid that can help protect your arteries from damage while lowering blood pressure. Consuming walnuts has been linked with improvements in memory, making them popular with those hoping to boost their brain health.

Berries

If you enjoy a handful of blueberries with your breakfast cereal, here’s some good news: they may be helping to take care of your brain. As well as being sweet and tasty, berries — including blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries — are bursting with brain-healthy nutrients. As well as having lots of vitamin C and other goodness, deep red and blueberries contain compounds called anthocyanins. These potent compounds have antioxidant effects and are also anti-inflammatory. They are reputed to support cognition by reducing oxidation, which damages cells, and by controlling inflammation.

Turmeric

This familiar spice gives curries and other Asian dishes, their warm flavor, and bright orange color. Turmeric has been used in traditional medicine for centuries; in Ayurveda, it’s often included in remedies for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. This anti-inflammatory effect is also theorized to help protect brain cells. Curcumin, the main anti-inflammatory compounds in turmeric, is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and act directly on the brain. Curcumin is thought to improve memory and may even prove to be beneficial to people with Alzheimer’s. In one study, turmeric was tested on patients with depression and showed a positive impact. This suggests that curcumin could also help with mood-related issues.

When you’re planning to make significant changes to your diet, it’s a good idea to talk things over with your healthcare provider before you begin. If you’re experiencing problems with cognition, it’s important to discuss these with a doctor or other medical professional.

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