The Top 10 Brain Foods, According To Neuroscientists

the best brain foods

On a day to day basis, our brains are exposed to multiple stressors such as lifestyle and environmental factors. This stress can harm brain cells, and over time, this will impact on memory and other cognitive functions. Cognition refers to the ability to learn and understand. In essence, it is the ability to think, know, remember, and solve problems. Unfortunately, cognition declines with age, but the good news is we can try and slow this decline down. The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ has some truth in it. What you eat can help preserve brain health, and this article will provide tips on food and drink to ensure you keep your brain healthy.

1. Walnuts

walnuts top brain food

Walnuts are loaded with alpha-linolenic acid, which is an omega 3 fatty acid that can provide DHA. DHA is well known to protect the brain; not only does it help protect the brain health of newborns, but it improves cognitive function in adults and can reduce age-related cognitive decline. There are many nuts and seeds that contain these essential fatty acids, and including them in your diet could undoubtedly boost your brain health in addition to general heart health.

2. Berries

berries brain food

Different berries, including blueberries and lingonberries, have attracted scientific attention in recent years. This is due to the fact that they contain bioactive compounds that can boost brain health. Many berries are rich in flavonoids, and these are powerful antioxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier and positively affect brain health. Blueberries are of particular importance and, in models of aging, have been associated with improved memory and movement[1]Kelly, E., P. Vyas, and J.T. Weber, Biochemical Properties and Neuroprotective Effects of Compounds in Various Species of Berries. Molecules, 2017. 23(1).

3. Oily Fish

Oily fish such as mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, and salmon contain essential fats called Omega 3. These fats provide docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and DHA is really important in protecting brain health. The consumption of oily fish with omega 3 fats may delay the process of brain aging and protect against the onset of diseases such as AD. DHA is also a major structural component of the eye, and inadequate levels in the diet may also contribute to poor eye health[2]Mohajeri, M.H., B. Troesch, and P. Weber, Inadequate supply of vitamins and DHA in the elderly: Implications for brain aging and Alzheimer-type dementia. Nutrition, 2015. 31(2): p. 261-275.

Related: The Surprising Brain-Boosting Properties Of Salmon

4. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate for alzheimers

Not only is dark chocolate highly nutritious, but it may also improve brain function. In one study of 90 elderly individuals with mild cognitive changes, an improvement was seen in some cognitive tasks and was one of the first studies to suggest that regular consumption of cocoa flavanols, found in dark chocolate, could improve brain function[3]Desideri, G., et al., Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) study. Hypertension, 2012. 60(3): p. 794-801.

5. Mango

Mango is packed full of goodness and provides many health benefits. It is thought that mango can preserve brain function and protect neurons, meaning it may be able to reduce the risk of age-related decline in cognition. Mango is also rich in antioxidants that can scavenge for free radicals, free radicals are produced by the cell and can cause extensive damage cells in the body[4]Burton-Freeman, B.M., A.K. Sandhu, and I. Edirisinghe, Mangos and their bioactive components: adding variety to the fruit plate for health. Food Funct, 2017. 8(9): p. 3010-3032.

6. Greens

leafy green brain food

Leafy greens, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and broccoli are among the healthy foods that are high in folate. Folate is one of the B vitamins, a family of essential vitamins important for nearly all tissues, including the brain. Folate deficiency increases with age and is associated with mild cognitive changes, depression, and also dementia. By eating greens, you can help keep your folate levels up and protect the brain from age-related changes[5]Araújo, J.R., et al., Folates and aging: Role in mild cognitive impairment, dementia and depression. Ageing Res Rev, 2015. 22: p. 9-19.

7. Turmeric

Turmeric for alzheimers

Turmeric is a spice that has been used in India for thousands of years, and it was even known then that it was good for health. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, associated with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. There is a growing body of evidence showing curcumin has positive effects on various brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and aging [6]Bhat, A., et al., Benefits of curcumin in brain disorders. Biofactors, 2019. 45(5): p. 666-689.

8. Coffee and Tea

coffee and tea for alzheimers

Caffeine in tea and coffee freely and rapidly crosses the blood-brain barrier and has many positive actions in the brain. One of the well-known benefits is the dose-dependent increase in energy that caffeine produces, so the more you drink, the more alert you become. Caffeine is also able to improve mood states, and there are suggestions it may help decrease the risk of depression. Coffee and tea also provide the all-important polyphenols, which have the potential to protect the brain cells against injury caused by toxins.

9. Coconut Oil

coconut oil brain food

There is growing evidence that coconut oil may be beneficial in patients with a decline in cognition, such as seen in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The brain primarily uses sugar (glucose) as a form of energy; this process can be affected early in the disease course of AD. Coconut oil contains an important type of fat – medium-chain triglycerides that can be converted into energy and help individuals with AD perform better. This is very promising, and the research is continuing since an improvement in cognition was seen in AD patients that were given coconut oil[7]Chatterjee, P., et al., Potential of coconut oil and medium chain triglycerides in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Mech Ageing Dev, 2020. 186: p. 111209

10. Red Wine

The brain is particularly sensitive to oxidative damage, which is linked to aging and some neurodegenerative conditions. Polyphenols can act as an antioxidant, and there is research suggesting the polyphenols from red wine are protective of the brain. The caveat is that alcohol should be consumed in moderation as there are negative health implications from drinking too much alcohol; however, the good news is that the odd glass of red wine could actually be good for the brain[8]Caruana, M., R. Cauchi, and N. Vassallo, Putative Role of Red Wine Polyphenols against Brain Pathology in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Front Nutr, 2016. 3: p. 31.

Related: Foods And Drinks Scientifically Proven to Help Fight Alzheimer’s Disease


There are many opportunities to ensure that the brain is well-nourished and taken care of. Whilst we cannot prevent the aging process, we can certainly help to slow it down. These foods and drinks are not only good for the brain but overall health, so how about making some changes to your diet today? Share this important information with your friends and family to make sure they eat brain-boosting foods too.


Written by Dr Tracey Evans

Tracey has a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Plymouth, an MSc in Molecular Neuroscience and a BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences.

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