Six of the Best Foods to Eat for a Clear, Sharp Mind
You know how important a healthy diet is for your overall wellness: Eating the correct foods can boost your immune system and lower your risk for a myriad of diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What few of us seem to realize is the true connections between our diet and brain health, but it makes sense when you stop to think about it: Our brain needs fuel to function at its highest capacity. "If you are driving an expensive car, you fill it with premium fuel, not regular gas, since it won't perform as well," explains Sydney Spiewak, MS, RDN, CD-N and Clinical Dietitian at UMass Memorial Health Care. "This analogy is true of the brain—it requires a diet rich in the right nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, whole grains, and unsaturated fats in order to run smoothly."
In short, if you want to keep your thinker sharp and clear, one of the best things you can do is eat a varied, nutrient-rich diet. Ahead, six of the best foods to eat to boost your brain health.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Spinach, kale, arugula, parsley, and romaine lettuces contain the nutrients lutein, vitamin K, nitrate, folate, alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, and kaempferol, which have all been associated with better brain health, says Nora Saul, R.D., C.D.C.E.S., L.D.N. of Silver Fern Healthcare in Hartford, Connecticut. One study published in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia found that those who followed the MIND diet, which is high in leafy green vegetables, could reduce their risk of Alzheimer's disease by as much as 53 percent. Saul recommends consuming at least two-and-a-half cups of vegetables per day, and that one of those cups come from leafy greens.
Certain fish, including salmon and albacore tuna, contain good-for-you fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, that improve the flexibility of your arteries and lower your cholesterol—two things that are vital for brain function, explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. What's more, "omega-3-rich fish have also been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid—the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Adams adds. When choosing fish varieties, he recommends opting for types that are responsibly sourced and contain the lowest levels of mercury; salmon, light tuna, cod, and pollack are all great choices.
So many nuts are good for your health, but walnuts, in particular, are rich in an omega-3 fatty compound called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which, according to research published in the The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, leads to improved cognitive performance. "ALA and other omega-3 fatty acids are also linked to lower blood pressure and cleaner arteries—again, things that help the heart, help the brain," adds Dr. Adams.
If you love having a cup of coffee (or a few) every morning, you can feel confident that you're giving your brain something it needs. Research, including a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, found that increased caffeine consumption resulted in higher mental functioning. Other literature in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease points to coffee drinking as a method of reducing the risk of Alzheimer's.
Dark berries, including blueberries and blackberries, are rich in flavonoids (plant chemicals with a variety of health effects), which account for their brilliant colors, notes Saul. "Research has shown that these compounds in berries can support memory retention and protect against neurodegenerative diseases," she says. She recommends consuming at least one cup of dark berries once per week, at least.
Yes, that's right—chocolate is good for your brain! Dark chocolate contains more cacao than milk iterations; like berries, it is also rich in flavonoids. "Cacao flavonoids may stimulate blood flow and encourage blood vessel growth in parts of the brain involved in memory and learning," notes Elana Clar, M.D., a neurologist at New Jersey Brain and Spine Center. A square of dark chocolate a day is a great serving recommendation to attain the treat's brain-boosting benefits.