Brain Food: The 10 Best Foods for Improving Memory

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A quality diet works wonders for the mind and body alike. Eating well is something everyone should strive to do, but there’s a lot more to a healthy diet than just checking all the nutrition boxes. Science suggests that certain foods can improve memory and preserve cognitive function.

What to Look For in Brain-Boosting Foods: 

As a general rule, brain foods are high in one or more of the following categories:

  • Healthy fats and fatty acids (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamins B, C, E and K

 

#1 Fatty and Oily Fish

Regular consumption of fatty fish can help with improving your memory and overall cognitive function. The following are examples of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, and Mackerel.

 

How Does It Work?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat (‘healthy fat’) that are an important part of our brain’s biology. 

These fatty acids (which are also present in soybeans, nuts and other seeds) are critical for normal brain function. The brain uses these fatty acids to help form cell walls (‘membranes’) that protect and preserve brain cells. In fact, brains deficient in fatty acids are more likely to show signs of cognitive decline.

 

Tip: A 4-ounce serving of fatty fish, anywhere from one to three times a week, is a good goal.

 

#2 Berries

Berries are more than just a delicious summer treat. These little pockets of flavor come loaded with ‘flavonoid antioxidants’ (compounds that may help boost brain function). 

As a general rule: the brighter the berry, the more antioxidants it has. Stick to brightly-colored berries to boost your antioxidant levels.

How Does It Work?

The greatest benefit of berries comes from their high concentration of antioxidants. Antioxidants are special compounds found in some foods that help to reduce the impact of ‘oxidative stress’ and inflammation. The more your body is able to reduce oxidative stress and lower inflammation, the better your overall health. Your brain, in particular, benefits from antioxidants that help improve communication between brain cells and reduce the impact of neurodegenerative diseases.

Tip: There’s no need to sit down and chow through an entire bowl of berries once a week. Sprinkling them on your other food throughout the week is fine!

 

#3 Coffee

Many people can’t imagine starting their day without coffee. However, did you know a cup of morning coffee comes filled to the brim with two substances that may improve memory and cognitive function — caffeine and antioxidants?

How Does It Work?

Antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress and eliminate free radicals (chemically-reactive molecules that damage the body). Of course, most people drink coffee for the caffeine! Studies show that caffeine affects the receptors in the brain responsible for drowsiness. Caffeine also boosts neurotransmitter production in the brain and helps protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Tip: Keep coffee consumption to a reasonable level. Excessive coffee consumption may increase your risk of anxiety, poor sleep and heart disease.

 

#4 Dark Chocolate

Chocolate is good for more than just your taste buds. Dark chocolate contains high amounts of antioxidants that work to boost cognitive function and protect against age-related neurodegenerative diseases. 

How Does It Work?

The health benefits of antioxidants aside, dark chocolate may work to boost blood vessel and neuron production in the brain. Think of dark chocolate as a delicious food item that actively works to stimulate the brain and promote blood flow.

The flavonoids found in dark chocolate accumulate in the areas of the brain that deal with mental agility, focus and memory. The presence of these friendly flavonoids leads to increases in cognitive function across the board. 

Tip: Stick to dark chocolate with a cacao percentage of over 60%. Keep your chocolate consumption to a reasonable level. Milk or white chocolate have very small amounts of beneficial flavonoids with high amounts of sugars and calories.

 

#5 Avocados

One of the original ‘superfoods’ that took the health and wellness world by storm, avocados may also improve memory and cognitive function. Don’t let the nutritional information of avocados worry you. Many people look at avocados and think, “Wow, that’s a lot of fat!” (at 21 grams per serving, they’re not wrong). Of course, fat content alone means nothing: avocados are positively loaded with the healthy, monounsaturated fats that your brain craves.

How Does It Work?

Avocados are incredibly rich in important vitamins and nutrients. This wonderful green superfood contains high amounts of Vitamin B, C, and K as well as folate (great for reducing the chances of a blood clot in the brain). Consider adding a serving of avocado a handful of times throughout the week for maximum benefits. 

Tip: Avocados and scrambled eggs make for a wonderfully nutritious breakfast. Speaking of eggs…

 

#6 Eggs

Eggs are one of the best foods for improving memory. Eggs make the shortlist of any collection of superfoods.

How Does It Work?

Eggs come loaded with vital nutrients that your body needs. Consider what an egg is — a collection of nutrients designed to grow an entire animal — and you’ll realize that eggs are the original “multivitamin.”

A single large chicken egg, for example, contains a mixture of:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B, B2, B5, and B12
  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium (a powerful antioxidant)s
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Manganese
  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Choline

On top of this, eggs contain large amounts of protein (6 grams per serving), a good amount of healthy fats, and good cholesterol. If you’re looking to improve your memory, you’re in luck. Eggs are a great source of choline — a nutrient that produces neurotransmitters in the brain — and are directly linked to improved cognitive function. 

Tip: Talk to your doctor about whether you’re consuming adequate amounts of choline in your diet. And, like everything, be balanced. If you are particularly concerned about cholesterol or fat, ask your doctor before increasing your intake of eggs.

 

#7 Tea (Green Tea, especially)

Like coffee, a cup of tea is a fantastic way to boost brain function and improve your memory. Tea is rich in antioxidants and other vital compounds that your brain will thank you for.

How Does It Work?

Green tea contains a high amount of polyphenols and catechins (types of natural antioxidants) that keep your mind sharp and clear. Most notable, green tea is rich in something called ‘Epigallocatechin Gallate’ (EGCG). EGCG and other polyphenols may be helpful in reducing inflammation, preventing heart disease and protecting against cell damage caused by free radicals.

Tip: Again, everything should be in moderation. Too much tea can make it difficult to relax or sleep. Too much sugar added to tea can also be unhealthy. 

 

#8 Nuts

Nuts may be a tasty way to improve your memory. Of course, you’ll want to choose the right ones. Walnuts, for example, are widely considered to be a brain superfood.

How Does It Work?

Walnuts are technically not nuts — botanically, they’re considered edible seeds — but the difference is largely academic. In fact, walnuts stand alone as the only culinary nut rich in DHA (a powerful Omega-3 fatty acid). DHA has numerous health benefits, including improved cognitive function.

If walnuts don’t appeal to your sense of taste, you may prefer almonds or hazelnuts. You’ll find that both almonds and hazelnuts come loaded with high amounts of Vitamin E — another antioxidant — and show marked improvements in memory and mental acuity.

Tip: Nuts are high in calories, so keep an eye on your nut intake. They work best as a snack or as part of a broader meal.

 

#9 Legumes

Legumes are one of the most underrated food groups discussed today. Legumes are not particularly high in antioxidants but contain a wide range of important nutrients linked to improved cognitive function.

Some common legumes include: beans, peas, lentils, soybeans and peanuts.

How Does It Work?

Legumes are rich in both protein and fiber — something of a rarity in nature — and help maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Varying blood sugar levels can contribute to cognitive decline and damage to the body. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a big no-no for the brain: your brain relies on glucose as its primary energy source. Likewise, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can disrupt the blood-brain barrier and lead to edema (swelling) in the brain. Legumes help address these concerns by stabilizing the release of sugar into the blood. Specifically, legumes help the body maintain higher levels of glycemic control. 

Tip: Some people shy away from legumes due to taste or texture. If legumes don’t strike your fancy, try adding them into soups or making a homemade dip/spread. 

 

#10 Leafy Green Veggies (Spinach, Kale, Broccoli)

It’s true: ‘eat your vegetables’ really is good advice.

Green vegetables, especially leafy greens (think spinach, kale, and so on) are powerful foods that can improve your memory and slow down cognitive decline.

 

How Does It Work?

Like most foods on this list, leafy greens contain antioxidants. However, green vegetables are also high in Vitamin K. Vitamin K refers to a group of fat-soluble vitamins that the body uses to form “sphingolipids,” a type of fat that helps protect brain cells.

There is a strong correlation between increased intake of Vitamin K and improved cognitive function (particularly with regard to memory). 

Tip: Broccoli pairs well with pasta dishes. Consider throwing a handful of broccoli on (or in!) your next pasta dish and enjoy the surge in Vitamin K.

 

Eat Well, Live Better

If there’s a single takeaway, it’s stick to healthy, fresh foods high in antioxidants and important nutrients. A diet rich in healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, fish, and other superfoods may be the best way to improve your memory and maintain cognitive performance. While not a guarantee, the above recommendations could help improve memory.

 

If you are interested in learning more and coming up with a personalized plan that aligns with your health goals, Iora would be happy to help! Find a local practice near you and schedule an appointment.