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A picture of a brain to support an article about brain foods.

It’s official: I’m changing my eating habits. Probably.

Certainly, I’ll try to add the foods listed below to my diet. What got to me the most while doing research for this article wasn’t hearing about all the great benefits of these foods. It was hearing about what happens if you don’t eat these foods.

All kinds of bad things happen. To your brain. Things like neurodegeneration, which is a fancy word for your ability to think and remember things gets worse and worse as you get older. Believe it or not, it gets worse faster if you don’t get enough of certain nutrients in your diet.

Supplements are helpful, but they don’t get the job done as well as food. The fact of the matter is that you simply take in more nutrients when it’s from a food source than when it’s in pill form.

That’s bad news for me considering I’m not a fan of seafood and first and most importantly on our list is…

Fatty Fish

We can’t talk about brain health without talking about fatty fish. Why? Because fatty fish just might be one of the best sources of omega-3s out there.

Omega-3s get a lot of attention these days. That’s for good reason. While they help with a lot of things in your body, we’re going to talk today about how they help your brain.

Research has suggested that people who get enough omega-3s in their diet had:

  • Increased blood flow in the brain.
  • Slower mental decline as they aged.
  • Better thinking abilities (or cognition).
  • Lower rates of depression.
  • More grey matter in their brains.

What’s so great about grey matter? Your brain cells responsible for decision making, memory, and emotion are all grey matter. Having more is better.

Meanwhile, 60% of your brain is made of fat. Half of it is of the omega-3 variety. These fats are essential building blocks in all your cells, including your brain cells.

Fats are what wraps around the long axon arms from nerve cell to nerve cell. Your brain is made entirely of “nerve cells” called “neurons.” Having sufficient fat on their axons helps the signals get from one to the other more efficiently, and more reliably.

If that’s not enough reason for us to eat them, I’m not sure what is.

Nuts and Seeds

This is a broad category, but the bottom line is that if you regularly get enough nuts and seeds in your diet, your brain will be healthier.

First of all, a lot of nuts and seeds have omega-3 fatty acids, which we just talked about in the last section. Overall, a good nutrient for your brain health.

Another good part of many nuts and seeds? Antioxidants.

Antioxidants are another thing you’ve probably heard all about. But what makes them so great for you, and in particular, what makes them so great for your brain?

Free Radicals and Why They’re Bad

Your body and your brain come down to chemicals. You’re just a bag of chemicals in a chemical skin suit propped up by molecular bones.

These chemicals are highly susceptible to what are called “free radicals.”

Basically, when oxygen atoms split, they can have an unpaired electron on their outer shells. Why is that bad? Because that unpaired electron desperately wants to pair with something.

This unpaired electron will attach to other electrons in your body, messing up the chemicals they’re attached to. That includes such important things as DNA.

This pairing rips up the normal chemical balance in your body. The process is known as “oxidative stress.”

Oxidative stress is believed to be responsible for all sorts of bad things from cancer to Alzheimer’s to aging.

Antioxidants are able to match up with the unpaired electron in free radicals thereby neutralizing their damaging effects.

Vitamin E, found in many nuts and seeds, has important antioxidant properties.

Other important nutrients for brain health found in nuts and seeds include:

  • Copper.
  • Iron.
  • Magnesium.
  • Zinc.

Copper helps control signals between nerve cells. So, improper copper levels can lead to a higher risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Iron is critical for something called, “getting oxygen to all the cells in your body.” Low iron levels can lead to brain fod and other mental disfunctions.

Magnesium plays an important role in memory and learning. Low levels have been linked to things such as migraines, depression, and even epilepsy.

Zinc, like copper, is important for nerve signaling. What happens if you don’t get enough zinc in your diet? Links have been found to many neurological problems including depression, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s.

Finally, a 2014 study found that women who regularly included nuts in their diet had sharper memory than those who didn’t.

That’s a lot of reasons to include nuts and seeds in your diet.


Next up on our list of healthy brain foods is berries.

Berries are chalk-full of antioxidants. Among the antioxidants included in berries are:

  • Anthocyanin.
  • Caffeic acid.
  • Catachin.
  • Quercetin.

That may mean nothing to you, but just know that they’re super good for your brain.

That’s because antioxidants, as we discussed previously, prevent oxidative stress on your body and brain. In fact berries have been found to:

  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Improve communication between nerve cells, including those found in your brain.
  • Increase plasticity (which means that your brain can form new connections – something that’s important for learning and creating new memories).
  • Reduce or delay age-related cognitive decline or even neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s).


I have to admit that when thinking of foods that might be good for your brain health, coffee didn’t come high up on my list.

There are two primary things in coffee that help your brain:

  • Antioxidants.
  • Caffeine.

We’ve already talked a lot about antioxidants, so let’s focus on caffeine. Did you know that it can actually be good for your brain? Caffeine is great, isn’t it?

Firstly, caffeine keeps your brain alert. You already knew that. But, the way it keeps your brain alert is by blocking something called “adenosine.” Adenosine is a messenger chemical that tells your brain, “we’re sleepy.” Once you get sleepy, all other cognitive functions start on the decline. Caffeine blocks that process. At least partially.

Caffeine can also increase your brain’s capacity for information processing.

It can also reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Finally, caffeine may boost serotonin levels. Serotonin is important for regulating mood and making a person feel “good” when things are going good.

Dark Chocolate

There are three things in chocolate that are good for your brain health:

  • Flavonoids.
  • Antioxidants.
  • Caffeine.

…although, technically, that’s only two things considering flavonoids are antioxidants.

What makes this particular group of antioxidants so special? They happen to gather in places that deal with memory and learning within the brain.

Like many other antioxidants, studies have found that these flavanoids may help slow down age-related mental decline as well as enhance memory.

The compounds in dark chocolate (that is, 70% cacao or more) may help:

  • Brain plasticity.
  • Blood vessel growth within the brain.

Both are important for keeping your mind sharp and nimble.


Eggs contain several compounds that benefit your brain:

  • B6.
  • B12.
  • Folate.
  • Choline.

B vitamins, in general (including folate), may reduce or slow mental decline in elderly patients. B12, in particular, seems to play a role in synthesizing chemicals necessary for brain function.

Deficiency in these vitamins has been linked to:

  • Depression.
  • Dementia.

Choline is a micronutrient that plays a role in the synthesis of acetylcholine. This is a neurotransmattier that helps regulate mood and memory. It’s also something that many people don’t get enough of.

Having sufficient choline can help you have a better memory and better overall brain function.

Green Teas

There are several things going on in green teas, including:

  • Antioxidants.
  • Caffeine.
  • L-theanine.
  • Polyphenols.

We already talked about antioxidants and caffeine, so what about L-theanine and polyphenols?

L-theanine is an important amino acid that happens to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. That means it can get into your neurons to do its good work. What good work is that? It can increase the activity of GABA, a neurotransmitter that can help you feel more relaxed and reduce anxiety without making you tired.

Polyphenols may help protect the brain from neurodegenerative decline and reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Honorable Mentions

We’ve talked a lot about some of the best foods for your brain health, but here are a few more honorable mentions:

  • Avocadoes.
  • Broccoli.
  • Oranges.
  • Soy Products.

Include more of these foods in your diet and you’ll be taking great steps to protecting your brain and keeping your mental faculties sharp.