The #1 Food for Boosting Brain Health, According to a Dietitian
Improve your brain health with this delicious food. Bonus: It's easy to find (and eat!).
You might feel your brain at work when you're calculating the tip on a restaurant bill or trying to list the state capitals, but otherwise, it's easy to take it for granted. The truth is, your brain is running all the time. It's not only doing the thinking and the remembering, but it's also doing things like telling your stomach to digest food and your heart to keep beating. As far as organs go, the brain ranks at the top of the body's list.
"Brain health affects who we are as people. I think we all intuitively know that on some level," says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., best-selling author of The MIND Diet. "It's everything from the way that we feel, our mood, our anxiety, to the way that our memory and our concentration are working on a day-to-day basis."
All that heavy lifting makes the brain very hungry, Moon says. Keeping it fed right over the course of a lifetime means that you and your brain will be better off as you age. Not only will it make you feel more focused and improve your mood in the short term, but you can also help prevent disease in the long run.
So, where to begin? The long answer is to incorporate a variety of brain-healthy foods into your overall diet pattern, and to limit more damaging things like fried foods and foods with added sugars. While there isn't a magic bullet food that will make you a genius and keep you from experiencing cognitive decline, Moon recommends starting the path toward a healthy brain diet with berries.
Why Berries Are the Best Food for Brain Health
"Food sources of antioxidants are essential for brain health," Moon says, because the brain is sensitive to oxidative stress and inflammation. For instance, when your brain experiences oxidative stress, you might find it difficult to concentrate. Antioxidants help counteract that stress.
Berries are at the top of Moon's list not only because they're packed with antioxidants, but also because they're accessible. You can enjoy them out of hand or blend them up in a smoothie, and can easily incorporate them into your daily routine. Moon always has frozen wild blueberries in her freezer, which have even more antioxidants than conventionally grown blueberries.
Another bonus? Berries contain flavonoids, plant compounds that may help prevent diseases such as cancer, heart disease and dementia. One study found that, in older women, eating more strawberries and blueberries led to slower rates of cognitive decline.
Other Brain-Boosting Foods
But why stop at berries, right? Two other foods Moon highly recommends getting more of are leafy greens and seafood, which also includes sea vegetables. Seafood containing omega-3 fatty acids can fight off inflammation and help the brain's cell membranes stay healthy, Moon says. "Having a good supply of those omega-3s will keep our brain able to produce new brain cells, which is linked to better mood and better cognitive function."
As for leafy greens, research has shown that eating more of them slows cognitive decline. Moon recommends putting greens like spinach and kale into smoothies or enjoying them in salads. (No need to suffer through flavorless salads—these salad recipes help keep things interesting!)
But these are just starting points for a diet rich in brain-healthy foods. Moon encourages getting a varied diet that includes lots of vegetables, grains, beans and nuts, in addition to fewer inflammatory foods such as fried foods and sugary desserts. When it comes to brain health, she says, "overall diet pattern is really important."