The Best Food For Brain Health

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A diet rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients helps protect the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, says Mosconi. Oxidative stress is a process that can cause cell damage and is linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

“The brain can become inflamed like the rest of the body,” says Mosconi. “Chronic, low-grade inflammation can negatively impact brain structure and function, raising the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain degenerative diseases.” Low-grade inflammation is a common response to disease that can chronically affect areas throughout the body.

Eating for brain health is easy since most brain-enriching foods are readily available at your local grocery store. Below are some of the best foods to incorporate into your diet to maximize brain health.

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight brain inflammation. Some of the best fatty fish for brain health include:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel

“Chronic inflammation impacts the brain just as much as any other system in the body and contributes to poor mood,” says Doebrich. “Seafood is the best way to get omega-3 fatty acids, but they are also found in nuts and seeds or some oils.”

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Leafy Greens

Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, are rich in B vitamins, have antioxidant qualities and are excellent sources of vitamin K, lutein and beta-carotene. Eating leafy green vegetables daily may also help maintain brain health as you age.

Additional leafy greens include:

  • Cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Collard, mustard and other dark greens
  • Lettuce and salad greens

To add servings of leafy green vegetables to your daily diet, steam them or add them to soups, scrambled eggs, omelets and salads.

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Blueberries are packed with flavonoids, plant compounds that may help lower risk for cognitive decline, cancer, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Other berries with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities include:

  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blackcurrants
  • Chokeberries

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Walnuts have a significantly higher omega-3 fatty acid content than almonds, peanuts or pistachio nuts. Eat a handful of walnuts as a snack, and add them to salads, oatmeal and other foods to boost your omega-3 intake easily.

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Turkey and Chicken

Turkey and chicken contain tryptophan, a protein used to make serotonin and melatonin. “Serotonin influences mood while melatonin is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle,” says Doebrich. “The two hormones help us feel better by regulating mood and helping us get better sleep.” Naturally, better sleep can lead to better cognitive function in both the short and long term.


This bold yellow spice is loaded with curcumin, a compound that contains powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and supports healthy memory. Turmeric is a mainstay of Indian and other Asian cuisines. Try adding it to vegetable and meat stir-fry dishes.

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Plant-Based Oils

Flaxseed oil contains the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids essential for brain health among all plant-based oils. Other oils high in omega-3s include canola oil and soybean oil. Olive oil also contains omega-3s but in a significantly smaller amount.

Use flaxseed oil for dips and salad dressings but never for frying or sauteing. Flaxseed oil has a low smoke point, the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke and lose its nutritional value.

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Caffeine has vasodilating (widening of blood vessels) effects, increasing blood flow to all your body’s organ systems, including the brain. Coffee beans also contain the antioxidant hydrocinnamic acid, says Mosconi.

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Dark Chocolate and Raw Cacao

Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and flavonols, a plant compound that protects against cell damage and helps fight inflammation. Consuming dark chocolate is linked to better brain function and improved memory, according to research. For best results, stick with a 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao content or raw cacao.

“Raw cacao (cocoa) is a rich source of theobromine, an antioxidant with vasodilating effects, which means it improves blood flow to the brain,” says Mosconi. “Hot chocolate made with raw cacao powder, hot water and unsweetened plant-based milk like almond or oat milk is a good way to give your brain a quick energy boost.”

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