As you age, taking care of your brain, and memory, in particular, becomes increasingly important. Staying sharp isn’t as simple as doing a puzzle every day—a lot of things contribute to your brain’s power to learn new things and store memories, including your diet.
How diet can influence cognition
When we talk about brain-healthy foods, we’re really discussing a few key, brain-healthy ingredients and compounds that these foods are rich in. Your body needs certain vitamins and nutrients in order to form new brain cells and neurological pathways, reduce inflammation of the brain and prevent the premature decline of brain function.
Here are some of the most important nutrients to include in your diet:
- B Vitamins: B vitamins, particularly vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate, have been linked to prolonged brain health. Folic acids supplements have been shown to slow mental decline in elderly people, and vitamin B12 is related to the synthesis of chemicals in the brain.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for brain function because over half of the brain is made of fat. Omega-3s are used to generate new brain and nerve cells to allow for optimal brain function. These fats are also known for reducing inflammation throughout the body, including the brain, which has actually been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants help fight off oxidative stress from free radicals, which can cause cell damage in the brain and body. Flavonoids, a group of plant-derived antioxidants, are particularly useful, as is vitamin C.
- Vitamin K: Vitamin K assists in the creation of fats that are needed for optimal brain function. Higher vitamin K intake has been associated with improved memory and cognition.
- Iron: Iron deficiency can cause a lot of problems for the body, including brain fog, poor memory and less efficient brain function.
Foods to eat
Although nutrients from all types of foods are needed to help your body and brain function properly, certain foods contain higher amounts of the cognition-bolstering nutrients listed above. If building a stronger brain and memory is your goal, work on incorporating these eight foods into your diet.
- Fatty fish: Fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, sardines and herring, are some of the best brain-healthy foods because of their high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating these fish may slow cognitive decline and aid in memory.
- Blueberries: Blueberries are a fantastic source of antioxidants because of their high concentration of flavonoids. Other berries like strawberries and blackberries are also good choices for antioxidant infusion.
- Turmeric: The popular spice turmeric has an active ingredient called curcumin, which is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds useful in strengthening brain cells and fighting against cognitive decline.
- Walnuts: Although nuts and seeds in general have healthy fats that can help the brain and body, walnuts, in particular, are a great source for omega-3 fatty acids. Because they are not derived from animals, walnuts are also a great choice for vegan and vegetarian diets.
- Eggs: Eggs are rich in B vitamins like folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12—three key components of a healthy brain.
- Caffeinated tea and coffee: Research suggests that in addition to a short-term energy boost, caffeine can actually play an important role in cognition. Experts believe caffeine may help improve memory, as well as overall mental function. Drinking a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea per day could keep you alert and sharp for longer than you’d think.
- Leafy greens: Leafy green vegetables like broccoli, kale and spinach contain high amounts of vitamin K and antioxidants, both of which contribute to improved cognition and lower your risk for neurodegenerative disease.
- Water: Finally, while nutrient-less, water plays a major role in the health of your brain, both day-to-day and in the long term. Occasional dehydration can cause brain fog and memory problems, and persistent dehydration could lead to large-scale problems within the body that affect your cognition. Make sure you’re staying hydrated every day to keep your brain—and the rest of your body—in great shape.
Foods to avoid
Finally, in order to keep your brain in the best condition possible, you’ll want to avoid eating certain foods that contribute to cognitive problems. One main offender is sugar; a high-sugar diet has been linked to brain fog, depression and many more problems that affect brain health and proper cognition.
By eating a healthy, well-balanced diet each and every day, you’ll be sure to get the full suite of nutrients your brain needs to generate new cells, build new neurological pathways and stay sharp as you age.