By Dr. Megan Rigby, DNP and Nutrition Consultant, | Lead Image by PeopleImages/

Food goes so much further than just meeting caloric needs for the day. Recall how you feel after polishing off a big salad versus downing a fast food combo--needless to say, we don’t have to remind you that the quality and sources of your food not only matter, but dictate how your body and mind function after.

And as more research uncovers the powerful benefits of nutrition, there’s evidence that outlines how some foods can protect against a variety of diseases. While there’s not a magic pill or a promise of being disease-free, proper nutrition through eating plenty of whole foods proves to be a vital way of managing our health. In fact, our major organs depend on the intake of these nutrients in order to function efficiently, including your control center, the brain.

Your brain commands everything from breathing to moving, and according to the American Brain Society, it uses around 20 percent of the body’s calories, defining the importance of adequate nourishment to optimize all bodily functions. Read on to learn how you can make the best brain-boosting food choices to keep sharp.

Research has found that compounds such as antioxidants, flavanols, polyphenols, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals (folate, vitamin E, and B vitamins) naturally found in food can help protect the brain from age-related cognitive decline, and even boost memory and concentration. Below are our top 10 recommendations for brain healthy foods you can incorporate into your diet, but remember that these foods can only do their jobs if you’re caring for your health in other ways such as getting adequate exercise and sleep. Help support all your brain does for you with these foods for memory, mental clarity and cognition.

1. Wild salmon. Aim for a four-ounce serving 2-3 times per week to get your share of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. These healthy fats can help reduce blood levels of the protein found in clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Omega-3s have also been linked to reduced symptoms in people with depression.

2. Nuts and seeds. An excellent source of healthy fats and vitamin E, nuts, and seeds help lessen cognitive decline as you age. Walnuts are especially high in healthy fats and linked to improved memory.

3. Avocados. A healthy heart means a healthy brain, and avocados contain monounsaturated fat, which can improve cardiovascular health and healthy blood flow. Good cardiovascular health decreases your risk of hypertension, which is a factor in diminished brain function.

4. Dark chocolate. This delicious treat has powerful antioxidant properties, which can protect the cells from brain shrinkage. It also contains caffeine, which increases focus and concentration, while signaling the production of endorphins to improve mood.

5. Coffee. Our morning cup of coffee just got even better. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that those who consumed a 200 mg caffeine tablet showed improved focus and mental clarity as compared to those who took a placebo.

6. Berries. Antioxidants and flavonoids have been shown to help improve our memory. In a study published in Annals of Neurology, researchers found that women who consumed two or more servings of berries each week potentially delayed decline in memory by up to 2.5 years.

7. Eggs. Not only are they a great source of protein, but they are also rich in vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate. Research shows that B vitamins may prevent brain shrinkage and delay cognitive decline.

8. Oatmeal. Whole grain-rich foods, such as oatmeal, can promote cardiovascular health, which improves blood flow to the brain. The brain cannot function without energy, and one of the simplest sources are complex carbohydrates. Our brains are fueled by an adequate, steady supply of energy in the form of glucose in our blood to the brain. Oatmeal is a great source because of its higher fiber and low glycemic index. It provides a slow and steady source of glucose to the brain for sustained energy.

9. Green, Leafy Vegetables. These veggies are known to be rich in vitamin K, folate, and beta carotene, three elements which have been shown to slow cognitive decline. Aim to mix up your green-leaf selections with options such as kale, spinach, and collards.

10. Beans. Primarily known for their digestive benefits related to fiber, beans also contain magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, and folate. Folate is notably important as research shows it improves our mood and protects against neurological disorders. Beans are one of the highest sources of folate out of all these brain-boosting foods.

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