EXPERTS SHARE THE 8 BEST BRAIN FOODS TO BOOST FOCUS, PREVENT MEMORY LOSS AND MORE

If you've been feeling more forgetful than usual lately, or you're struggling to stay focused on simple tasks, you may be wondering how to get your mental clarity back. The good news? Certain foods can keep your brain sharp as you age. By adding some of the best "brain food" to your diet, you can boost your brainpower and safeguard against Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. 

Nearly six million people are currently living with Alzheimer's disease, and that number is expected to almost triple by the year 2060. Age is the biggest risk factor, and women are at a higher risk than men, likely because our life expectancy is higher. So it's important to take steps now to support your brain health for the long haul. 

We asked experts which foods pack the biggest punch for better brain health and preventing age-related cognitive decline. Here are their top picks.

Neurologist's #1 pick for the best brain food

There's a reason you'll find fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, swordfish and sardines at the top of just about every list of the best brain foods. The healthy fats found in oily fish have been proven to improve blood flow to the brain, which benefits learning, memory and how efficiently the brain works.

Related: Top Experts Reveal the 12 Best Ways To Get Rid of Brain Fog Fast

"If I had to choose one food that stands out for brain health, it would be fatty fish," says Rizwan Bashir, MD, a board-certified neurologist at AICA Orthopedics. "Fatty fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for maintaining the health of brain cell membranes and supporting cognitive function. Omega-3s also have anti-inflammatory properties that help protect the brain against degeneration."

According to a study published in the medical journal Neurology, middle-aged people with higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells had better brain structure, memory, processing speed and executive function (which includes high-level cognitive skills like goal-setting, self-control and focus). 

Why omega-3s are important for brain health

Two omega-3 fatty acids in particular are especially beneficial: 

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is associated with larger hippocampal volume - the part of the brain that's linked to memory performance and processing speed

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) can help to improve abstract reasoning, which includes the ability to solve problems and think on the fly. 

And according to a study published in Advances in Nutrition, taking these two fatty acids together may even improve cognitive functioning in patients with mild Alzheimer's.

But healthy fats aren't the only reason fish is one of the best brain foods. Fatty fish are also packed with protein, which is vital for brain health. "Water and protein are the two largest sources of matter in your brain, so feeding and nourishing your brain with lean, healthy protein is important," says Brynna Connor, MD, a family medicine physician and healthcare ambassador at NorthWestPharmacy.com. "A diet rich in brain-boosting proteins will help keep your brain functioning at a high level." 

Aim to eat at least one to two servings of fatty fish per week, Dr. Connor adds. One serving of fish is 4 ounces - around the size of a deck of cards. 

More of the best brain food to sharpen thinking

Of course, you probably don't want to eat mackerel at every meal. Luckily, there are a few other nutritional heavy-hitters for brain health. Add these expert-recommended foods to your grocery list for a wide variety of brain-boosting vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants.

1. Best brain food: Blueberries

Berries in general are a great pick for keeping your brain healthy. "Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries contain an antioxidant called anthocyanin that helps protect against age-related brain decay and improves brain function," Dr. Connor says. 

When it comes to the best berry for your brain, the experts were unanimous: Blueberries have the edge thanks to high levels of flavonoids, a type of plant compound with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  "One berry that stands out above the rest is blueberries," Dr. Connor adds. "Researchers have found that blueberries can help with long-term memory and spatial memory - remembering where things are and how to get there." The reason? Their high levels of flavonoids, a type of plant compound with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

A study published in Nutrients found that eating just half a cup of whole blueberries each day was enough to improve performance on cognitive tasks such as verbal learning tests, memory questionnaires, and word association. 

2. Best brain food: Walnuts

Not a seafood lover? Take heart - seeds and nuts are another excellent option for getting your omega-3s. "Walnuts have some of the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids, making them a great option as part of a diet to enhance memory and boost brain health," Dr. Connor says. "Studies have shown that people who eat more walnuts have improved memory and cognitive function."

Walnuts are also loaded with antioxidants to protect your brain health. "Antioxidants are important for the brain as they help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, [both of] which can cause damage to brain cells and lead to decline in reasoning and memory," says Sarah Bonza, MD, a board-certified physician specializing in lifestyle medicine. Antioxidants also help protect the brain from free radicals, she adds, which are unstable molecules in the body that can cause cellular damage and inflammation.

A review of research published in the journal Nutrients found that eating 1 to 2 ounces of walnuts each day - between ¼ and ½ cup - can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression and type 2 diabetes, all of which are risk factors for dementia. 

3. Best brain food: Eggs

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Eggs are one of the best sources of choline, a compound that plays an important role in brain health. "Choline is a precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the most important one for memory - and one that is reduced in Alzheimer's patients," says Dale Bredesen, MD, neurologist, internationally recognized expert in brain health, author of The End of Alzheimer's and LifeSeasons Medical Advisor. Acetylcholine plays a crucial role in thinking and memory, and choline is essential for its production. 

Related: What Happens If You Eat Eggs Every Day?

The target intake of choline is 500 mg per day, Dr. Bredesen says, but most people fall short of that amount. One hard-boiled egg provides 147 mg of choline to help you get closer to that daily goal. 

4. Best brain food: Leafy greens

In a study published in the journal Neurology, more than 900 participants reported on their eating habits and took memory and perception tests over a period of several years.

"Researchers found that there was a direct correlation between the amount of leafy green vegetables consumed and cognitive health," Dr. Connor says. "The higher the amount of leafy green vegetables in the subject's diet, the less likely they were to experience cognitive decline. Those who ate the highest amounts of leafy green vegetables had brains that were essentially 11 years younger compared to those who didn't!"

To reap the benefits, Dr. Connor says, you should aim to eat at least one serving - around two handfuls - of leafy greens like spinach, arugula, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard or bok choy each day. 

Leafy greens are also a top source of vitamin K, which researchers say could potentially help to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. "People low in vitamin K have an increased risk of Alzheimer's," Dr. Bredesen says. 

Collards are the clear winner when it comes to vitamin K - a ½-cup serving of boiled collard greens provides 530 mg of vitamin K, which is more than four times the daily intake goal.  

5. Best brain food: Turmeric

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This superstar spice is widely used in Ayurveda and other traditional medicines for its ability to fight inflammation. Curcumin, the compound that gives turmeric its yellow color, can help reduce inflammation in people with inflammatory conditions such as allergies, arthritis and infections. "Turmeric is another powerful brain-boosting food," Dr. Bashir says. "Its active ingredient, curcumin, has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits that can enhance brain function and lower the risk of cognitive decline."

While curcumin can be taken as a supplement, Dr. Bashir recommends getting it straight from the source. Adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of ground turmeric to your daily diet "can provide additional benefits through the synergy with other nutrients," he says. Try seasoning with turmeric while cooking, sipping a cup of turmeric tea or adding it to a smoothie. 

"It's also important to note that curcumin absorption is enhanced when consumed with black pepper and healthy fats," Dr. Bashir says. "Consider adding a pinch of black pepper and a bit of olive oil or coconut oil when cooking with turmeric."

Opt for high-quality turmeric, which typically contains stronger concentrations of curcumin. When shopping for turmeric, check the label to make sure it's free from dyes and additives. When you get home, scoop a teaspoon of the spice into a glass of warm water; pure turmeric will settle at the bottom of the glass instead of dissolving into the water. 

6. Best brain food: Capers

Capers are the richest food source of quercetin, a flavonoid that can help boost immunity and relieve allergy symptoms. But quercetin also benefits the brain in a unique way by helping the body get rid of senescent cells, which are cells that have stopped dividing. 

These senescent cells act like "zombie cells" and secrete pro-inflammatory molecules, Dr. Bredesen says. In the brain, this can lead to age-related memory loss and cognitive decline. But quercetin is a senolytic compound, meaning it helps to reduce potentially damaging senescent cells. Dr. Bredesen suggests aiming for 500 mg of quercetin per day - the amount you'd find in 100 grams (around ¾ cup) of canned capers. (Just keep in mind you'll also get quercetin from foods such as citrus fruits, apples, onions, parsley and sage.)

7. Best brain food: Red grapes

"Red grapes have one super ingredient that makes them a superfood: resveratrol," Dr. Connor says. "Resveratrol is a molecule that helps prevent damage in the brain, blocks inflammation and slows aging in brain tissues. Multiple studies have shown that resveratrol can improve memory and other cognitive abilities, and can reverse aging in the brain by up to 10 years." 

Two cups of grapes per day - around 44 grapes, or four handfuls - is enough to reap the health benefits, Dr. Connor adds. "What's especially important for grapes is that you eat the skin, as that is where the majority of the resveratrol comes from," she says.

8. Best brain food: Dark chocolate

Great news for chocolate lovers! Research suggests the flavanols in dark chocolate accumulate in the area of the brain associated with memory and learning, which may help to sharpen your memory and slow cognitive decline.

In a study published in the journal Appetite, researchers found that participants who consumed more chocolate performed better on a variety of cognitive tests, including memory, abstract reasoning and organization tasks. An ounce of dark chocolate also provides 24 mg of caffeine, which may help you feel more alert and focused.

"For the best benefits, and to optimize cocoa's antioxidant properties, select dark chocolate that has at least 70-75% cocoa," Dr. Bonza says. "Moderation is key - a small serving of 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate, one or two times a week, is enough to make the most of antioxidant benefits without putting you at risk of consuming too much sugar and calories."

Flavanols in chocolate also have potent antioxidant properties - the darker the chocolate, the higher the cacao content and the more antioxidants it'll deliver. "This protection assists in keeping one's capacity to learn and memorize, and could help to prevent certain diseases like Alzheimer's," Dr. Bonza says.

The best brain food salad

Want to check off several of the best brain foods in a single meal? Dr. Bredesen swears by this healthier spin on a Nicoise salad, which he eats a couple times a month. "Each ingredient offers something different," he says. 

In a bowl, mix to taste:

1. Fatty fish

Dr. Bredesen prefers to use petrale sole for its low mercury content compared to tuna. "Bake it with some avocado oil brushed on," he says. "Avocado oil is a healthy, monounsaturated fat, not a pro-inflammatory saturated fat." (Can't find petrale sole at your local seafood market? Dr. Bredesen suggests swapping in wild-caught salmon.) 

2. Hard-boiled egg

Choose pasture-raised eggs, which have more omega-3s than conventional eggs. 

3. Purple potatoes

They're rich in anthocyanins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, Dr. Bredesen says.

4. Green beans

Crunchy green beans provide vitamins A, C and K along with folate and potassium, Dr. Bredesen says. These nutrients support heart health, which in turn helps to boost blood flow to your brain. "Good cerebral blood flow is important for optimal cognition," he adds. Just keep in mind that green beans are one of the "dirty dozen" fruits and veggies that are often contaminated with pesticides, so opt for organic green beans if possible.

5. Romaine lettuce

"What is better than a good romaine crunch?" Dr. Bredesen says. "And romaine has a full 40% of the RDA of vitamin K in every cup. Lettuce also supplies both soluble and insoluble fiber, which has multiple brain-protective effects." Again, opt for organic if possible, and soak the lettuce for 10 minutes before spinning it to dry.

6. Cherry tomatoes

Research suggests the lycopene in tomatoes may protect against certain neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's. 

7. Capers

Along with the benefits of quercetin, capers "are a nice, salty condiment and a low-chemical crop, thus do not need to be restricted to organics," Dr. Bredesen says. 

8. Nicoise olives

These olives are the namesake of the salad, but Dr. Bredesen advises using them sparingly due to their high salt content.

9. Dressing

Dr. Bredesen suggests drizzling the salad with a homemade dressing made with a high polyphenol count extra virgin olive oil, non-GMO white wine vinegar and heart-healthy Dijon mustard.

More brain boosting ideas:

Your Brain Is Like a Muscle - It Needs to Exercise in Order To Stay Fit! Here's How To Keep It Sharp

"Mango Leaves Reversed My Memory Loss - And Now I'm Sharper Than Ever At Age 86!"

Curing Your Brain Fog Could Be As Easy As Replacing a Few Spices: Here's What a Top MD Recommends + The Brands to Chose

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

2024-06-17T21:04:36Z dg43tfdfdgfd