12 Best Foods for a Healthy Brain

We tend to take our brains for granted. We go about our business every day without thinking about how much energy it takes just to think, let alone keep our bodily organs working day in and day out.

In reality, your brain needs a lot of fuel to do its job well. Studies show that on average, the brain accounts for about 20% of the calories we burn each day. However, this does not mean that the fuel is suitable. When it comes to fueling your brain to do its best work — staying focused and maintaining a strong memory — some foods are much better than others.

If you want to keep your mind in good shape, here are the 12 best foods for brain health.

Leafy vegetables

Not to repeat your mother, but she was right about that. These leafy greens are really good for you, especially your brain. Spinach, kale, collards—you name it. These vegetables are rich in brain-boosting nutrients like beta-carotene, folate, lutein, and vitamin K. Plus, research shows that plant-based foods can be especially good for limiting of cognitive decline.

Recommended daily intake: Aim for about 1/4 cup per day or 1.5 to 2 cups per week.

Nuts

Nuts are lauded as a source of protein and healthy fats. But they’re also great brain food. Each nut has unique benefits, and including pistachios, macadamias, and almonds in your diet will definitely support your brain health. But for a real mental boost, turn to walnuts. They are full of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, both of which are important in preventing mental decline.

Recommended daily intake: A 2021 study found that adults who consumed 15 to 30 grams of nuts per day had significantly higher cognitive scores than those who ate less.

Coffee and tea

You may be used to drinking coffee or tea to stay awake, but these caffeinated beverages can offer more than just a morning boost. Researchers note the ability of caffeine to increase the brain’s capacity to process information, and coffee also contains many powerful antioxidants that may help support brain health. In addition to both, green tea is rich in L-theanine. This powerful amino acid can help manage stress and anxiety, which is important for brain function.

Recommended daily intake: Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (about four cups of coffee or black tea) is generally considered safe for most adults.

tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the best foods for brain health, thanks to their rich lycopene content. This powerful carotenoid has been shown to help prevent cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. One fresh, medium tomato contains about 3.2 milligrams of lycopene, and you can find even more in tomato sauces, pastes, and ketchup.

Recommended daily intake: Studies show that 9 to 21 milligrams of lycopene per day may be most beneficial.

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Whole grains

Whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, barley and brown rice are essential parts of a balanced diet and are known to support cardiovascular health. Less well known is that many whole grains are rich in vitamin E, an important antioxidant that helps reduce the presence of free radicals and prevent neurological damage. Experts also favor consuming vitamin E in its natural form rather than through supplements, making whole grains a great choice for boosting your vitamin E intake.

Recommended daily intake: The guidelines recommend at least three servings of whole grains per day, totaling at least 48 grams.

Broccoli

Leafy greens aren’t the only green vegetables to make the list of best foods for brain health. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are also important. These vegetables contain high doses of glucosinolates. When combined with water, these compounds produce isothiocyanates, potent metabolites known to have neuroprotective properties.

Recommended daily intake: The USDA recommends that adults eat 1.5 to 2.5 grams of cruciferous vegetables per week.

Salmon and tuna

You may make it a habit to avoid fatty foods, but when it comes to fish, fat is a good thing. Fish such as salmon and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to many positive health outcomes, including for the brain. In particular, these healthy fats are associated with lower levels of beta-amyloid in the blood. This damaging protein forms clumps in the brain that often lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Recommended daily intake: Aim for at least two servings of low-mercury fish such as salmon and light tuna per week.

Forest fruits

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a bunch of berries staves off mental decline. Fruits are one of the best brain foods because they are full of flavonoids. These natural pigments not only make the fruit colorful, but also improve brain function, especially when it comes to memory.

Recommended daily intake: Eating at least two servings (half a cup each) of berries per week has been shown to delay memory decline by as much as two and a half years.

Dark chocolate

If you’re looking for food that’s good for your brain, a tasty treat like dark chocolate might not come to mind. But dark chocolate combines many of the benefits of the other foods on this list. It’s full of antioxidants, flavonoids, and caffeine, making it one of the most brain-healthy foods you can eat. Don’t say I didn’t give you good news.

Recommended daily intake: A small snack of dark chocolate, 30 to 60 grams several times a week, can help improve brain function. Make sure it’s at least 70% dark to get the most benefits and limit calories from sugar.

seeds

They may be small, but the seeds are as packed with nutrients as many nuts and are a great snack to munch on. Sunflower seeds in particular are rich in vitamin E, whose brain benefits we discussed above. Pumpkin seeds are also a powerful source of antioxidants and important minerals such as copper, iron, magnesium and zinc. Each of these minerals can help protect against cognitive decline or brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, depression and even epilepsy.

Recommended daily intake: Try to eat 1/8 to 1/4 of a cup of seeds, three or four times a week. You can mix up the types, from pumpkin and sunflower seeds to chia seeds and ground flax seeds.

Close-up of jars full of seeds and nuts

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eggs

This breakfast food isn’t just good for a morning protein punch. Eggs are also rich in several important B vitamins, including B6, B12 and B9 (folic acid). Studies show that these vitamins can help prevent brain shrinkage and limit mental decline in older adults.

Recommended daily intake: For most adults, one egg a day is a good goal. Your doctor may recommend more or less based on your overall health and cholesterol levels.

Turmeric

Your spice rack probably isn’t the first place you think to look when considering good brain food. But turmeric, a main ingredient in curry powder, is not something you want to ignore if you want to maintain a healthy mind. Turmeric contains curcumin, which has been linked to a variety of positive outcomes for brain health, from protecting against Alzheimer’s disease to helping brain cell growth.

Recommended daily intake: Since turmeric is a spice, you probably won’t be able to get as much as you need just by cooking with it. Talk to your doctor about whether a curcumin supplement would be a good option for you.

Supplements for a healthy brain

When it comes to brain health, as with any type of nutrition, it’s best to meet most or all of your needs through your normal daily diet. In other words, eating the foods we’ve discussed above is the best way to keep your brain functioning well in the long run.

However, if you’re having a hard time getting what you need with these brain foods, it may be helpful to include some supplements in your diet. You may consider supplements or multivitamins containing any of the following:

  • B vitamins, especially B6, B12 and B9
  • Vitamin C
  • Beta carotene
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Med
  • Iron
  • Curcumin
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

Brain health is critical to your overall health and well-being, so be sure to check with your doctor before adding supplements to your diet.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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