The power of your brain is immeasurable. As the control center of your body, it allows your heart to beat, the lungs to breathe, and lets you move, feel and think. Because the brain is such an energy-intensive organ, it uses around 20 percent of the body’s calories. That said, it requires an abundance of nutrients and good fuel to stay healthy. Below we’ve put together a list of 10 superfoods to boost brain power, and ways you can integrate them into your diet.
The foods we eat have a big role in the structure and health of our brains, and a brain-boosting diet can support both short- and long-term function. From improving specific mental tasks such as memory and concentration to promoting overall brain structure, a healthy diet can keep your brain sharp and will increase your odds of maintaining a healthy brain as you age.
According to registered dietitian & nutritionist, Nicole Rose aka NickiRD, “Paying attention to your diet can have a huge effect on the status of your brain. You don’t need fancy foods to give your brain – Mother Nature has all the answers.”
The UBA List of Superfoods to Boost Brain Power
While we may not be able to control the onset of brain diseases and disorders, incorporating brain-friendly foods in our diets is something we can consciously do to keep our brains in peak working condition.
UBA has compiled a list of 10 superfoods that can help maintain brain health, and are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, good healthy fats, minerals and micronutrients. Research has found that compounds such as antioxidants, flavanols, polyphenols, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals (notably, folate, vitamin E, and B vitamins) naturally found in food can help protect your brain.
In no particular order…
1.) Blueberries: Antioxidants Fight Cognitive Decline
Not only are blueberries delicious, but they are good for your brain. Evidence accumulated at Tufts University suggests that the consumption of blueberries may help improve or delay short term memory loss. Research also shows that this readily available fruit may help protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
The antioxidant compounds in blueberries:
- Reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain and throughout the body
- Improve communication between brain cells
- Increase plasticity, which helps brain cells form new connections, boosting learning and memory
According to NickiRD, “Blueberries, which are bountiful come summer, have been shown to boost short- term memory. Try adding the fresh (even the frozen!) ones to your morning smoothie.”
2.) Wild Salmon: May Help Promote Healthy Brain Function
Fatty fish like salmon are the ultimate brain food. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body, which means they must be obtained through our diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish in the form of EPA and DHA.
A diet with higher levels of these fats may:
- Lower risks of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and also slow mental decline
- Enhance memory
- Manage stress
- Produce good mood brain chemical, serotonin
In addition to salmon, other sources of oily fish include trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, and kippers. For brain health, two servings of fish per week are recommended.
3.) Dark Chocolate: Antioxidant Power to Boost Brain Health
Calling all sweet tooths, here’s a dessert you can feel good about! Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are strong antioxidants that can improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation. Antioxidants are especially important for brain health, as the brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which contributes to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases. All of these things combined move dark chocolate to the top of the list of superfoods that boost brain power.
Research shows that dark chocolate can also:
- Combat fatigue and the effects of aging
- Boost both mood, focus, and alertness – one of the few foods that can do so naturally!
- Improve brain plasticity, crucial for learning
- Provide a very respectable dose of magnesium, zinc, fiber, and caffeine-like plant-based stimulant that the brain loves
“Indulge your sweet tooth with dark chocolate. It’s delicious and brain-friendly. I highly recommend eating high cacao dark chocolate (72% or greater), as it’s low in sugar and still very tasty,” says NickiRD.
4.) Turmeric: This Brightly Colored Spice Boosts Mood, Memory & More
Spice up your life, while contributing to a healthier brain by consuming turmeric, one of the most colorful and versatile ingredients in your cabinet. Research has shown that inflammation is the “universal brain destructor” and this beloved Indian spice is packed with antioxidants, particularly curcumin, one of the most potent and naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agents ever identified.
Other benefits of turmeric include:
- Improves the brain’s oxygen uptake
- Increases memory & cognitive function
- Benefits the immune system
5.) Coffee: Aids in Processing, Memory & Focus
Whether enjoyed in the morning to start the day, or for a late afternoon pick-me-up, your cup of joe has been shown to improve memory and potentially decrease the risk of dementia.
Beyond boosting alertness, a 2018 study suggests that caffeine may also increase the brain’s capacity for processing information; researchers found that caffeine causes an increase in brain entropy – complex and variable brain activity. When entropy is high, the brain can process more information.
Coffee is also a source of antioxidants, which may support brain health as a person gets older. Studies have linked lifelong coffee consumption with reduced risk of:
- Cognitive decline
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Not a coffee drinker? Black and green teas also contain brain-boosting antioxidants, so sip away!
6.) Nuts & Seeds: Boost Your Brain Function
Eating more nuts and seeds may be good for the brain, as these foods contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Studies have found that higher overall nut intake was linked to better brain function in older age; nuts and seeds are also rich sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which protects cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Research has found that vitamin E may also contribute to improved cognition and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to NickiRD, “You can find amazing omega-3 fats in hemp, flax, chia and pumpkin seeds. Create your own trail mix with these seeds as the front runner alongside coconut chips, cacao nibs, walnuts and almonds.”
7.) Sage: An Herb to Boost Your Memory
Dating back to 1597, ancient herbalists cited that sage was good for the brain and has the ability to quicken nerves and memory. Even then, they were onto something. According to recent studies, sage may possess memory-enhancing properties, and a research review published by the National Center for Biotechology Information identified sage as one of the herbs that may be beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients.
NickiRD says, “How many times have you passed these herbs at the local produce market? Now you have reason to stop and look. Sage, (part of the mint family) works wonders by improving memory and concentration. Try adding the fresh leaves to your roasted butternut squash. You can even take it one step further and rub organic brain-friendly sage essential oil on your wrists and then breathe deep!”
8.) Avocados: Promotes Blood Flow & Brain Health
A diet rich with healthy unsaturated fat supports the brain and combats cognitive decline. Avocados are a fruit (yes, they are a fruit!) packed with good-for-you monounsaturated fats that promote healthy blood flow and support information-carrying nerves in the brain. They are also loaded with several of the brain’s most valued nutrients, including folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, and copper.