Eating to Preserve Brain Health and Prevent Disease: What Foods Should You Include?

OCTOBER 17, 2018
Gina Kokosky, Assistant Editor
While there is no single food known to boost brain health with aging, nutritionists recommend a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, plant-based protein, and fish, as optimal for staying healthy and keeping the brain sharp. These foods often contain omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B, and antioxidants, which are known to improve brain health and function, according to a report published by Harvard Health Publishing.1

Lisa Mosconi, PhD, IHNC, a neuroscientist who specializes in Alzheimer’s disease prevention and nutrition coaching, agrees that diet is important in maintaining brain health with aging.2

“Diet plays a clear and determinant role in every aspect of brain function, literally shaping our thoughts, actions, emotions, and behaviors,” said Mosconi, in an interview with Forbes.“Next generation medical imaging and genomic sequences, including my own work, have helped reveal that some foods are neuro-protective, literally shielding the brain from harm and supporting cognitive fitness over the course of a lifetime.”

Evidence shows omega-3 fatty acids are important for promoting brain health. Consuming a diet rich in these unsaturated fats has been associated with reduced levels of beta-amyloid, a protein that clumps together in the brain in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Harvard report. 1

Another study found that omega-3 fatty acids were associated with improved learning and a stronger memory, as well as protecting the brain against mental disorders, such as clinical depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, dyslexia, schizophrenia, and dementia, according to a study published by Nature Reviews Neuroscience.3

Fatty fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but it is important to choose varieties with low levels of mercury, such as salmon, cod, pollack, or canned tuna. If you don’t eat fish, some plant-based sources include flaxseeds, avocado, walnuts, chia seeds, or olive oil, according to the report.1

Other foods that promote a healthy brain include green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, collard greens, and broccoli, that are rich in Vitamin K, lutein, folic acid, and beta carotene to help slow cognitive decline; berries, as their natural pigments, called flavonoids, can help improve memory; natural caffeine sources, such as coffee or tea, that not only provides a boost of energy, but help improve mental function and solidify memories; and nuts that are rich in protein and healthy fats. Walnuts in particular may work to improve memory due to their high levels of omega 3-fatty acids, according to the report.1

Mosconi also recommends extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil, as they are rich in omega-3s and vitamin E; raw cacao or dark chocolate that contains 80% or more cocoa, which contains theobromine, an antioxidant known to promote healthy aging and boost mood; and plenty of water, as more than 80% of the brain’s content is water, and even a minimal loss can lead to brain fog, fatigue, dizziness and confusion.2

Mosconi also shared her favorite brain boosting snack: a homemade trail mix made with dried fruit, nuts, and seeds to provide a punch of brain essential nutrients. She includes goji berries, brazil nuts, walnuts, cacao nibs, pistachios, hemp hearts, and more in her mix.2

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Foods Linked to Better Brain Power. Harvard Medical School. . Accessed October 16, 2018. 
  2. Cording, J. The Top 5 Brain Boosting Foods You Should Be Eating. Forbes. March 12, 2018. . Accessed October 16, 2018.
  3. Gomez-Pinilla, F, et al.  Scientists Learn How Food Affects the Brain: Omega 3 Especially Important. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2008; 9 (7): . Accessed October 16, 2018.