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8 Brain Healthy Foods to Add to Your Diet

by Lindsay Allen December 12, 2022 0 Comments

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There is strong evidence all over that proves what we eat impacts our health. A healthy dietary pattern that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains improves heart health and reduces the risk of chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes.

You may have heard the saying “You are what you eat.” The foods we choose to eat daily have an overwhelming impact on our bodies. Is it possible for certain foods to also boost our brain health? The answer is yes! Certain foods can improve brain functions, such as our concentration and memory.

Check out these top foods that can help your brain beam and easy ways to add them to your meals:

1. Green, Leafy Vegetables

Eating a colorful variety of vegetables is important for adding fiber and nutrients into our diet and fueling both gut and brain health. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-boosting nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline. When it comes to brain power and overall health, green veggies should be filling most of your plate at every meal.

Tips:
  • Add a small salad at dinner
  • Toss some kale into a smoothie
  • Stack tomatoes and red peppers into a sandwich
  • Incorporate veggie noodles like zucchini or carrots into pasta dinners

2. Fish

Typically consumed as a healthy meat alternative, fish is also good brain food. It is full of omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats, which are beneficial for both learning and memory. The goal is to eat fish at least twice a week and choose those varieties low in mercury like salmon, cod, and canned light tuna.

Tips:
  • Top a salad with your fish of choice
  • Add fish to tacos or burgers in place of meat

3. Berries

It never hurts to add color to your plate! Ensuring meals have a variety of fruits and vegetables is key to a balanced diet for both your body and mind. Berries are a great choice to add as they are a source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They also contain flavonoids, which are the natural pigments that give the berries their dazzling color. Research shows that eating berries can improve memory, so grab some blueberries, strawberries, or blackberries the next time you are at the store. 

Tips:
  • Add fresh or unsweetened frozen berries to smoothies, yogurt or cereal
  • Brighten up a salad by adding some berries
  • Serve warmed up berries with a scoop of unsweetened Greek yogurt and nuts for dessert

4. Legumes

These are a healthy, plant-based sources full of iron, zinc, protein, and fiber – all benefitting brain development. A versatile and nutritious class that includes beans, peas, and lentils has been linked to better memory and thinking skills. Most recommendations call for at least three servings per week. We can boost intake by having a few meatless meals each week or including them on the side with a small portion of an animal-based protein.

Tips:
  • Add beans to tacos, soups or casseroles
  • Use hummus as a sandwich spread or snack
  • Add cooked beans to meatballs or burgers
  • Add chickpeas or beans to salads

5. Avocados

Many shy away from avocados due to their high-fat content, but it’s important to know that avocados are full of goodness. They are packed with monounsaturated fats (the ‘good’ fat), which have been shown to keep our brains healthy and stabilize blood sugar levels. They are also high in protein, low in sugar, and packed full of vitamins which are all good for our brain health. 

Tips:
  • Add avocados to smoothies or salads
  • Substitute in baked goods for other fats
  • Smash them on toast
  • Top your eggs or sandwich with a few slices

6. Whole Grains

Another healthy habit that goes a long way is swapping out refined carbs with whole-grain options. Whole grains are complex carbs that break down slowly in our bodies and release sugars gradually (that is a good thing!). They have plenty of health benefits, including positive impacts on our brain health. Skip the simple carbs that are loaded with sugar and opt for healthier alternatives like steel-cut oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread and pastas.

Tips:
  • Swap a white bread sandwich for a whole grain version
  • Go for brown rice or quinoa over white rice as a side
  • Choose whole grain cereals including oatmeal
  • Replace pasta with whole grain option

7. Walnuts and Other Nuts

It turns out that munching on a few walnuts a day may help improve your cognitive health. They are full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which are known to improve mental awareness. They are also a great source of protein and healthy fats. Diets rich in these types of foods have been linked to lower blood pressure – a win-win combination for both our heart and brain! Go ahead and grab a handful of walnuts or other nuts such as almonds, pistachios and cashews. 

Tips:
  • Sprinkle over salads, yogurt or oatmeal
  • Add as a garnish on soups
  • Use them to form snacks like energy bites or bars

8. EXTRA Dark Chocolate

You are welcome! For those with a sweet tooth, we have something for you too. Chocolate is full of flavonols, which are known to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But don’t go grabbing any kind of chocolate at the store. Most is processed and not considered healthy for the body or mind. Make sure you select a minimally processed dark chocolate with at least 70 percent of cocoa to get your sweet tooth fix and its brain benefits!

Easy Snacks that Boost Brain Health

Superfood Smoothies

  • Add folate and fiber-rich leafy greens like spinach or kale
  • Add chia seeds or walnuts for plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein
  • Add avocado for a healthy fat
  • Add berries for antioxidants
  • Add plain, unsweetened yogurt for extra protein and probiotics (healthy for your gut and can help boost mood)

Homemade Veggie Fries

  • Use an air fryer to add a crispy, crunchy texture without deep frying
  • Use zucchini, carrots, green beans, or your favorite veggies to make ‘fries’ 
  • Season with a pinch of black pepper, oregano, parsley, or thyme for added flavor

Homemade Hummus

  • All the main ingredients are super foods - blend chickpeas, sesame paste (tahini), garlic, and olive oil for the most traditional version
  • Add some color and nutrients by adding orange carrots or deep purple beets to the hummus
  • Pair it with apple slices, carrot or celery sticks, sugar snap peas, or 100% whole wheat pita

Supplements to Help Promote Brain Health

It is estimated that approximately 25 percent of adults over the age of 50 take a supplement to improve their brain health. Marketing of these products promises enhanced memory and sharper focus. Among the most used supplements marketed to improve brain health are those that fall into the category of ‘nootropics.’ They are considered non-addictive substances that help the brain work more efficiently. 

These include supplements made with ingredients such as:

  • Caffeine
  • Ginseng
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Ginkgo biloba

But the question is, are these claims true? The main issue with all over-the-counter supplements is the lack of regulation and research. Currently, there is not enough evidence on isolated vitamins or minerals and their impact on brain health. Still, this doesn’t mean that the brain supplements don’t work - do your research and talk with your doctor before adding anything to your regime. 

Many find it easier to take a pill, rather than make lasting lifestyle changes. But overall, your best bet is to invest in making long-term habit changes like increased exercise and following a more plant-based diet. These can help improve brain health long-term more than any supplement!

Other Ways to Boost Brain Health

Adopt a Healthy Diet Plan

  • The Mediterranean diet focuses on the consumption of vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil. It is known for being heart-healthy, but also can be good for your brain health. 
  • The MIND diet (mix of Mediterranean and DASH – dietary approaches to stop hypertension) focuses on brain-boosting foods like fish and berries while cutting out red meat, sweets, fried foods and margarine. 
  • Real extra virgin olive oil is a staple ingredient for these diet plans. It is full of powerful antioxidants and is a great addition to your kitchen!
  • Cutting out high sugar and foods that cause inflammation can boost brain health and may also help prevent conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.  

Tea and Coffee

Caffeine in your morning cup of joe or tea may offer more than just a short-term attention boost. Several research studies have shown more caffeine consumption led to better scores on mental function tests and can help solidify new memories. But before taking the initiative to add in several cups to boost brain health, check with your doctor! 

Find Healthy Drinks to Lower Blood Pressure

Exercise

Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. It helps to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, balance blood sugar and reduce mental stress, all of which can help your brain and heart.

Build Social Networks

Strong social interactions have been associated with a lower risk of dementia, as well as lower blood pressure and longer life expectancy. Connecting with loved ones, friends, and community groups is a great way to reduce stress, and depression and have fun! 

Adequate Sleep

Consecutive hours of sleep play an important part in your brain health. During sleep our brain works to repair itself, so don’t skip the shuteye our bodies and mind need. If you struggle to get quality sleep talk to your healthcare provider. 

Tips on How to Improve your Sleep

Mental Stimulation

Any mentally stimulating activity can help to build up your brain. Try reading a book, taking a new course or trying word puzzles. Experiment with things that require manual skill such as drawing, painting, sewing, and crafts.

More Ways to Boost Brain Health

Start Boosting Your Brain Health

Just as there is no magic pill to prevent health decline, there is not a supreme brain food or activity that can guarantee a sharp brain as you age. We emphasize that a healthy diet, along with other healthy habits like exercise and sleep is the goal. If you are not ready to commit to a total health overhaul, incorporating some of the tips discussed above can still have a lot of benefits.

Lindsay Allen
Lindsay Allen

For over 20 years, Lindsay has worked as a passionate and dedicated professional seeking to advocate health & well-being in the community and beyond. She has worked with various hospitals & health departments to plan, implement & evaluate educational programs on healthy lifestyle topics including nutrition, physical activity, and cancer prevention. She completed her degree & internship in Dietetics from Virginia Tech and holds certifications in CDC Diabetes Prevention Program along with effective writing and cultural competency to assist clients in the best personal goal setting & habits. In her spare time, Lindsay loves working out, watching sports, and spending time with her husband, 3 children & dogs.



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