Brain Foods to Boost Mind Health

Brain Foods to Boost Mind Health

Publish Date March 30, 2023
Author Stephanie Skinner-Lucas (MS, RDN, LDN)

Did you know that the average human attention span is about 8 seconds? With all the stimulation around us, keeping our minds focused and sharp can be a challenge. One simple way to improve your memory, focus and concentration is using what you have in your kitchen – food! There are potentially many healthy brain foods in your pantry, cabinet or refrigerator right now. Take a few minutes to see if the following double-duty nutritious foods are part of your daily routine.

Which foods are best for your brain?

Fruits - Berries contain flavonoid antioxidants which support memory function and may delay brain aging. Berries can jolt brain health, including strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants, mulberries, as well as cherries. Enjoy a handful of berries for a snack, sprinkle them over your breakfast cereal, add them to a smoothie or bake them into an antioxidant-rich dessert. These benefits can be gained from fresh, frozen or dried berries and cherries.

Consuming one medium orange with a meal or a snack contains almost all the vitamin C you need in a day. Vitamin C is an impactful antioxidant that aids in defending damage to brain cells by fighting off the free radicals. Vitamin C also supports brain health as you age. These foods have a high amount of vitamin C: bell peppers, guava, kiwi, tomatoes and strawberries. Next time you have hummus, try it with bell peppers, or add strawberries to a salad, smoothie or yogurt to recharge the brain.

Vegetables - Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, cabbage and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta carotene. Research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline. Try a kale salad or substitute collard greens for a tortilla in your next sandwich wrap. Consider adding broccoli to stir-fry or an omelet for added mental stimulation.

Protein Foods - Eggs are a good source of several nutrients tied to brain health, including vitamins B6 and B12, folate and choline. These nutrients promote proper brain function and development. Studies have shown that eating breakfast may improve short-term memory and attention. Plan to include eggs as one of your breakfast brain fuel foods.

Fatty or oily fish is essential for good brain health. The reason is omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, which may help sharpen memory and protect your brain against cognitive decline. Examples of oily fish containing high levels of omega-3s include salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines. Substitute fish for other meats at least twice a week. Try salmon tacos with red cabbage slaw, snack on sardines or enjoy seared tuna on salad greens for dinner.

If you’re not a fan of fish, avocados, soybeans, nuts, flaxseeds and other seeds can also provide omega-3s and antioxidants. Nuts and seeds are rich sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which has been shown to help slow mental decline. Soybean products are rich in a particular group of antioxidants called polyphenols. Research has linked polyphenols with reduced risk of dementia and improved cognitive abilities in regular aging processes. The nuts and seeds with the highest amounts of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts. While all nuts can help improve memory, walnuts may have an extra edge because they are high in alphalinoleic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. A handful of these powerful brain boosters can be used as a snack to satisfy midday hunger, or added to oatmeal or a salad for crunch.

Beverages - If coffee is the highlight of your morning, you’re getting the day off to a good start. Coffee contains caffeine and antioxidants which help support brain health. Caffeine has been shown to increase alertness, improve mood and sharpen concentration.

Green tea also contains caffeine, increasing mind function. This brain-healthy beverage contains polyphenols and antioxidants that may help protect the brain from mental decline and reduce the risk of certain diseases affecting the brain. If you need a memory enhancement, green tea may be the missing link.

Spices - Dark chocolate contains cocoa, also known as cacao. Cacao contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. These flavonoids seem to be beneficial for the part of the brain that manages learning and memory. Researchers believe these compounds may help slow down age-related mental decline and mood. Dark chocolate with a 70% or greater cacao content provides these brain-boosting affects. Enjoy up to an ounce of dark chocolate to get all the benefits you need with a minimum of excess calories, fat or sugar.

Turmeric, the key ingredient in curry powder, has several benefits for the brain. The active ingredient in turmeric providing benefits to the brain is curcumin. Curcumin is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that may benefit memory and help delay age-related mental decline, but more research is needed. Try adding ground turmeric to your smoothie, sauteed veggies, soups and stir-frys, whisk it into homemade vinaigrette or sip on turmeric tea.

How else can I improve my memory and concentration?

“Brain food” comes packaged in a variety of boxes. Now that you have the edible ways to maintain or improve your memory, get ready for some diverse cerebral and physical stimulation for memory and focus.

  • Train your brain. Your concentration is certain to improve by spending 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week on brain training activities such as sudoku, crossword and jigsaw puzzles, word searches, or a friendly chess game!
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can disrupt concentration as well as memory and attention. Many experts recommend adults aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Having trouble getting that amount? Try these better sleep tips: turning off electronics one hour before bed, wind down with soft music or a book, and maintain a cool, comfortable temperature in your room. Aim to be consistent with going to bed and waking up around the same time daily.
  • Make time for exercise. Exercise is important for overall physical and mental health. Increased attentiveness is among the many incredible benefits of regular physical activity. Even moderate workouts for short periods have been shown to improve brain strength across all age groups. Try waking up 15-20 minutes earlier in the morning to fit in a walk or run before your day starts, or find a fitness class you’ve been wanting to try near you.
  • Give meditation a try. Improved concentration and memory are only a few of the positive benefits meditation and mindfulness practices offer. Yoga, deep breathing and many other activities can help with meditation.
  • Listen to music. Turning on music while working or studying may help increase information absorption. Experts agree classical music or nature sounds are good selections to improve your focus. If you’re not a fan of this type of music, give ambient music or songs without lyrics a try. The key is to keep the music soft or at background noise level, so it doesn’t distract you.
  • Spend time in nature. To boost awareness naturally, try to get outside every day, even for just 15-20 minutes. Taking a short walk through a park, sitting in your backyard or garden can help. Any natural environment has benefits!
  • Time to socialize. Enjoying the company of friends and family may be a mentally engaging leisure activity and may help preserve cognitive function. Some brain stimulating actions include having current event discussions, playing games and participating in social sports.
  • Try supplements. Some supplements may help better promote increased concentration and overall brain health like folate, choline, vitamin D, C, E or K, omega 3 fatty acids, beta-carotene or magnesium. Just a reminder, these supplements are unlikely to improve mental performance if there is no deficiency.

Well done! This article has held your attention for way over 8 seconds. By now, you’ve planned a trip to the store to shop some brain-supporting nutrients and healthy foods. Whether you’re changing the way you eat or engaging in some “brain food” activities, your brain (and body) will thank you.

Explore more healthy living advice from our team of experts.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.