Meet the Foods Science Says Could Boost Brain Health

Eating right can help anyone feel physically well. But diet can do more than just impact physical health—it plays a key role in brain health, too! Keep reading to learn more about the potentially brain-boosting foods older adults (and anyone else) can enjoy as part of a healthy lifestyle.

11 Healthy Foods That May Boost Brain Function

Many experts consider the healthiest diet to be a plant-based one, full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with fewer processed foods, added salts, and added sugars. But just what are the "best brain foods," exactly? While no single food can wholly reverse neurodegenerative diseases or prevent memory loss, plenty of research suggests that the following foods can help boost cognition as part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.

1. Blueberries

These berries not only taste great but could also potentially give brain cells a boost.

Here's how experts believe it works.

The brain is vulnerable to oxidative stress, which is when the body has too many free radicals (unstable atoms or molecules) and not enough antioxidants (which can help protect against cell damage) to combat these free radicals. Research suggests that oxidative stress can promote the development or worsening of certain conditions like stroke and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. One potential way to combat oxidative stress? Introducing antioxidant-rich foods into the diet, like blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries.

2. Whole Grains

When enjoyed in moderation, whole grains can be a fantastic part of a healthy diet as a nutrient-dense source of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and folic acid.

Let's back up a moment: just what are "whole grains," exactly?

Whole grains, as the name suggests, are grain kernels that are whole; that is, they have every part of the natural kernel, which are the endosperm, the germ, and the bran. They are more nutritionally complete than refined grains, which only contain the endosperm. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, barley, and quinoa.

Here's why whole grain could be a great part of a brain-healthy diet: some research indicates that a diet lacking in whole grains could contribute to greater risk of inflammation and cognitive impairment. Furthermore, a deficiency of folic acid, found abundantly in whole grains like quinoa, can lead to poorer mental health outcomes and increased risk of dementia in elderly individuals. It's therefore no surprise that international dietary guidelines recommend whole grains as part of a well-rounded diet.

NOTE: Just be careful when shopping around; not all items labeled "whole grain" are healthy as they can contain lots of added sugar or other less-than-healthy added ingredients.

3. Leafy Greens

There are plenty of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients packed within vegetables, especially leafy greens like, folate, beta carotene, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin C, folic acid, and more. The vitamins and minerals in these vegetables may help slow the effects of age-related cognitive decline.

Some nutrient-dense leafy greens you can incorporate into your meals include spinach, kale, and bok choy.

4. Avocados

Avocados are full of healthy fats (unsaturated fats) and B vitamins, which many experts associate with better cognitive outcomes. That's why it may come as no surprise that one study found that older adults who include avocado regularly in their diet had better cognitive outcomes than those who did not.

5. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate isn't just delicious; it could also boast some brain-boosting effects. It's all due to dark chocolate's concentration of cocoa flavonoids, which are natural compounds that countless studies have linked to beneficial health effects. Specifically, some research indicates that moderate dark chocolate consumption could temporarily boost verbal memory function (at least in comparison to eating white chocolate).

6. Fatty Fish

People concerned about age-related memory loss may want to explore adding fish—particularly fatty fish—into their diets. Fatty fish are fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and/or omega-6 fatty acids, and include fish like sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and salmon. While more research is needed, some studies indicate that eating fish rich in fatty acids is correlated with a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment in older adults.

Not a fan of fish? That may not be a problem as plenty of research suggests that fish oil supplements may deliver plenty of the "brain-boosting" benefits as eating fatty fish.

It's not just the essential fats in fish that may help boost cognition, either; many fish are also packed with vitamins and nutrients like vitamin B12 and choline. Research indicates that vitamin B12 deficiency (common among elderly adults) is linked to an increased risk of dementia and, inversely, recent research states that proper intake of B vitamins is linked to better cognition. Many experts also associate healthy intake of choline with better memory outcomes.

7. Flaxseed

As a source of nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, flaxseed boasts antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and other beneficial health effects. While more research is needed, current research links flaxseed consumption with healthy brain development and even some neuroprotective (brain protecting) benefits.

8. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which many experts state has major health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall risk of heart disease. But this diet isn't just good for the heart; it may help promote a healthy brain as well.

Specifically, it may help promote blood flow to the brain, which could help improve overall cognitive function.

9. Green Tea

Green tea could be a great drink of choice for someone trying to follow a more "brain-healthy" diet, as research suggests it can boost cognition and brain function. How does it work? Some experts believe that it is the combination of theanine and caffeine in green tea that produces these beneficial results.

10. Legumes

Legumes are a prominent part of the Mediterranean and include foods like lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans. While more research is needed to confirm results, some studies associate the Mediterranean diet with fewer signs of damage commonly seen with Alzheimer's disease.

11. Turmeric

Experts have long touted the antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric (or, more specifically, its active compound, curcumin). In fact, curcumin's unique composition may help protect the brain from Alzheimer's-related damage, making turmeric an attractive and tasty addition to any menu.

Mealtime at St. Andrew's

All senior living communities in the St. Andrew's network place a special emphasis on mealtime. It's a time to connect with others, enjoy tasty food, and give the body the sustenance it needs to thrive. We encourage prospective residents to contact us to schedule a tour of one of our communities, complete with a mouth-watering complimentary meal.

DISCLAIMERS: This article does not offer medical advice and cannot be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition. It should not replace the advice of a licensed medical professional. Do not make any dietary changes or start any supplements without first consulting your primary care physician or licensed dietitian/nutritionist

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