The food you eat plays a substantial role in your brain’s health and functionality. The average adult’s brain makes up about 2% of a person’s body weight, but requires 20% of the calories.1
In our post about overcoming anxiety, we discussed the intimate connection your brain shares with your gut. Your gut bacteria produces hundreds of neurochemicals, including serotonin, histamine, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA).
The food you eat impacts your neurochemicals’ ability to do their jobs. If you eat poorly, you may find yourself feeling sluggish, anxious, and unable to get a good night’s sleep.
Make sure you’re putting the right food into your body, like berry-rich antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are 7 healthy brain foods you should include in your diet:
When it comes to healthy brain foods, fish are frequently at the top of the list.
About 60% of your brain is made of fat, and half of that fat consists of omega-3s. Fatty fish are rich in omega-3s, so it makes sense that they’re vital to your brain’s health.2
Fatty fish are often also high in vitamin D and vitamin B12—both of which can reduce your symptoms of depression. A meta-analysis found that vitamin D supplementation may be effective for reducing symptoms of depression if you’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression.
Some research also suggests that people who regularly consume fatty fish have more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter contains most of the nerve cells that impact your memory, emotions, and decision-making abilities.8
Nuts are another healthy brain food high in omega-3s. They’re also an excellent source of vitamin E, which protects your cells from oxidative stress, something that can lead to neurodegenerative diseases later in life. As we get older, our brains are more likely to get exposed to oxidative stress, so eating foods high in vitamin E can protect you from its risks.910
Nuts are also famously high in protein, which is the second largest matter in your brain (water is number one). Proteins help your neurons talk to one another by making neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers of your brain.
When your neurons effectively communicate with one another, they improve your memory by providing more storage for them. Strong communication also helps neurons create more connections within your brain.11
If you need to study for a test or retain a lot of new information, start incorporating more nuts into your diet.
Leafy greens appear on almost any health-related foods list. Studies show that plant-based foods can help slow cognitive decline. One cognitive study revealed that people who ate one or two servings of spinach, kale, collards, or mustard greens per day retained the same mental ability as individuals 11 years their junior.12
Leafy greens are high in vitamin K, folate, and beta-carotene—all of which are excellent nutrients for your brain. Here’s why:
- Vitamin K protects nerves from harmful substances that try to enter your brain. It also prevents and treats certain blood clotting issues.1314
- Folic acid can help slow the thinning of your brain cortex, reducing your chances of developing psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia. It is also shown to reduce depression, and slow age-related memory loss and cognitive decline.1516
- Beta-carotene is a natural compound that improves cognitive impairment. You can get the amount you need by enjoying green, orange, and yellow leafy fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, cantaloupe, spinach, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. Beta-carotene supplements should only be taken in moderation. High doses of these supplements can increase your risk of certain cancers, or even turn your skin yellow or orange.1718
Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. For these reasons, they’re also capable of reducing your risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease later in life.
Antioxidants are natural substances that can delay or prevent various types of cell damage. Studies reveal that antioxidants can help fight free radicals from causing oxidative stress in your brain. As a result, they can reverse some symptoms commonly associated with getting older, including memory loss.19
Your brain uses 20% of your body’s oxygen for its high metabolic activities. Since your brain is so active, it’s more easily susceptible to these free radicals, so eating foods high in antioxidants is vital to staying in good health.20
Blueberries often get all the glory in the berry family, but blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries are also great additions to your diet. Other healthy brain foods rich in antioxidants include cilantro, cinnamon, cocoa, dark chocolate, ginger, green tea, and kidney beans.
Eggs contain high amounts of B vitamins, which can influence memory function, cognitive impairment, and dementia. Research shows that a B vitamin deficiency can “contribute to the complexity of depression symptoms.”21
Eggs also contain choline, a nutrient that your body uses to create chemical messengers responsible for improving your mood and memory.
Choline plays a vital role in neurotransmitter function, because it impacts your dopamine and acetylcholine levels. Dopamine helps you feel pleasure, motivation, and satisfaction, while acetylcholine improves your motor function.2223
Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can cross your blood-brain barrier and increase the effectiveness of GABA, a natural stress reliever.
However, stress relief is just one of green tea’s many benefits. Green tea can also:
- Improve memory, focus, and alertness24
- Boost brain function25
- Protect your brain from cognitive decline26
- Reduce your risk of neurodegenerative diseases27
Green tea is frequently found on healthy brain food lists. However, this amazing beverage isn’t without flaws. Green tea contains caffeine, which can trigger anxiety and activate your brain’s autonomic nervous system, the flight of your fight, flight, or freeze mode.
If you find yourself becoming anxious, drink decaffeinated green tea instead.
Chocolate lovers can rejoice.
Dark chocolate—particularly dark chocolate that contains 70% or more cocoa—can significantly improve cognitive function in aging adults with mild cognitive impairment.28
The higher the percentage of cocoa in your dark chocolate, the better. Cocoa is rich in flavanols: plant compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that cocoa can reduce brain inflammation, which is especially helpful if you are experiencing a brain injury or concussion.29
We recommend enjoying dark chocolate in moderation. Like green tea, it contains caffeine. If anxiety is a concern, you should stick to some of the other healthy brain foods on this list.
More Healthy Brain Foods
These are just a few of the many foods that can improve your brain’s health. Here are a few more you should add to your diet:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Whole grains
- Soy products
For more information on healthy brain foods, send us a message.
Dr. Jessica Wendling