You eat for your heart. You eat for your muscles. Heck, you probably even eat for your private parts. But why aren’t you eating for arguably the most important body part of all? That’s right: your noggin.
In today’s day and age, everyone could use a little help staying sharp and being more productive. That’s why we’ve compiled the fifty best foods—from snacks to your favorite cut of meat—that will boost your memory, improve your motor skills, and even help beat back depression. So if you’re ready to become a better multitasker, take note. And while you’re rethinking your diet, don’t miss our plan for Staying Lean for Life.
Dark or leafy greens contain high levels of folate and vitamin B12, which may protect the brain against dementia. Researchers from Tufts and Boston universities observed subjects in the famous Framingham Heart Study and found those with high levels of homocysteine had nearly double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. High homocysteine is associated with low levels of folate and vitamins B6 and B12, leading researchers to speculate that getting more B vitamins may be protective. Bonus: spinach is one of the foods that will keep you young forever.
These dried fruits are loaded with the element boron. USDA researchers found that subjects taking in at least 3.2 milligrams of boron a day performed 10 percent better on attention and memory tests. (Apples and nuts pack the stuff, too.) Eating more raisins is also a great way to keep your blood pressure down.
This fowl contains the amino acid tyrosine, which has been shown to help the brain maintain levels of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter to memory. U.S. military researchers found that soldiers did better on a multitasking and memory test when they’d consumed a food rich in tyrosine an hour earlier. If you’re looking for a great recipe, try our Tangy Turkey Sandwich.
Dark-colored fruits and vegetables, especially blueberries, strawberries, and spinach, are high in antioxidants. In research on rats at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, James Joseph, Ph.D., found that older rats fed blueberry extract had improved short-term memory and motor skills. And, for the record, if you’re over 45, you definitely need more blueberries in your diet.
These nuts are rich in vitamin E. A National Institutes of Health study found that the antioxidative properties of vitamin E reduce deterioration in the brain as you age. Just 2 ounces of almonds contain your recommended daily intake of E.
The best types are cold-water fish such as salmon, halibut, tuna, and mackerel. They contain more omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in brain function. These fish get their omega-3s by eating algae, other fish, and a particular plankton that lives in cold water. Scientists have also found that omega-3 fatty acids contained in certain oily fish can decrease the symptoms of depression.
They are one of the richest sources of choline, a nutrient that may improve memory. Studies have shown that college students who received 3 or 4 grams of choline 1 hour before taking memory tests scored higher than those who didn’t take choline.
In one study, British researchers found that consuming the caffeine equivalent of 1 cup of coffee improved attention and problem-solving skills. Upgrade your at-home coffee game with one of these 15 Best Coffee Makers on the Planet.
University of Toronto researchers recently determined that eating carbohydrate-rich foods like oatmeal is equivalent to a shot of glucose, a.k.a. blood sugar, injected into your brain. According to the study, the higher the concentration of glucose in your blood, the better your memory and concentration.
Swiss researchers discovered that of three different breakfast types—high-carbohydrate, high-protein, and a balance of both—the high-protein meal helped men score better on a computer memory test (similar to the electronic game Simon). “Short-term memory can be better after a protein-rich meal because the food increases your levels of the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine,” says Karina Fischer, Ph.D., the study’s lead author.
Walnuts are known for their brain-boosting powers, and countless studies back up their benefits. One in particular found they’re especially good at maintaining brain health as you age thanks to a handful of different nutrients, from omega-3 fatty acids to fiber and vitamin E.
You might have hated broccoli as a kid, but learning to love it as an adult will do your brain some good. The green veggie—which still looks like mini trees no matter how old you are—contains lutein, a plant pigment that a 2016 study says is linked to “crystallized intelligence.” And that’s just as cool as it sounds: It basically allows older adults to continue to use the skills and knowledge they picked up throughout their life.
Guacamole isn’t just delicious—it’s also jam-packed with monounsaturated fats, fiber, and lutein that can better cognitive health, says a 2017 study. According to the study authors, participants who ate one fresh avocado every day saw a significant improvement in their memory and problem-solving skills. And who’s going to say no to an avocado a day?
Yes, it’s the excuse to eat chocolate you’ve been waiting for. If you munch on the dark varieties, a 2013 study found you’ll be taking in flavonoids that help preserve your brain power, lowing your risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Not only are lentils packed with plant-based protein, but they also have a hefty supply of folate, which is incredibly important for keeping your brain sharp as you age, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. (And yep—if it sounds familiar, it’s the same stuff pregnant ladies take in vitamin-form as folic acid to ensure their babies don’t have any birth defects.)
You either love beets or you hate them, but you can’t deny their benefits either way. One study found the nitrates in the veggie improve mental performance by increasing blood flow to the brain.
Turmeric has been used for thousands of years for a good reason. It not only makes for a really delicious—and healthy!—golden milk latte, but the yellow spice is also known for its ability to help reduce inflammation and ease Alzheimer’s symptoms, says a 2008 study.
Whether you massage it for a salad or blend it up in a smoothie, kale is a keeper. The nutrient-dense food has been touted as a brain-booster for years, but a recent study found making it a regular staple in your diet can help slow age-related cognitive decline.
It probably doesn’t seem like a watered-down green stick can have that big of an impact on your brain. But one study found luteolin—one of celery’s key compounds—can reduce age-related inflammation, which helps prevent memory problems.
Chard—you know, those leaves with stalks that are every color of the rainbow—are packed with betalains, AKA water-soluble plant pigments. The pigments not only give the veggie its bright colors, but according to a 2001 study, they also protect the brain cells from neuro-generative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Don’t just devour strawberries in the summertime—eat them year round. A 2012 study found the older participants who ate the juicy berries on the regular delayed cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years. And since the study involved 121,700 people, there’s enough proof to go buy some strawberries stat.
Fermented foods aren’t just great for your gut—they also have plenty of brain-boosting benefits. Since the brain and the gut have a close connection, the probiotics in kimchi—a traditional Korean cabbage dish—have been found to promote brain health and even help fight off anxiety and depression.
If you’re not a strawberry fan, don’t worry: Eating blackberries, which are also packed with flavonoids, have been found to help delay cognitive aging too, making sure you keep your brain healthy into your 70s and beyond.
Everyone knows the crunchy veggie helps out the eyes, but it has an impact on the brain, too. A 2010 study found the compound luteolin could help reduce inflammation in the brain, helping your memory stay strong through the years.
You don’t need to be a pro baseball player to snack on sunflower seeds. Full of vitamin E, the little guys have been found to help keep your brain healthy, preventing cognitive decline and improving your memory.
Sure, lentils are great—but peanuts are packed with folate, too. Eat a handful of the unsalted version as a midday pick-me-up or start your day with some peanut butter toast to reap the benefits, from improved memory and processing speed to fighting off depression, says a 2005 study.
It’s rare to hear someone rave about their love of cabbage, but the underrated veggie deserves a spot in your grocery cart more often. A 2012 study found it’s packed with the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect the brain against age-related cognitive decline and free radical attacks.
Like kimchi, pickles—yep, those delicious dills in your fridge—are also in the fermented food category. Typically low in calories and packed with probiotics, crunching on a few a day—or any pickled foods, for that matter—can have a positive influence on your brain health, says a 2014 study.
The next time you’re cooking up some vegetables, sprinkle on a little olive oil. A recent study found it can protect your memory and learning ability, as well as help prevent the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, which lead to Alzheimer’s.
Another food rich in folate is asparagus, and you can reap some major benefits from eating it: A 2007 study found high levels of the vitamin can protect cognition in seniors, helping them perform better on cognitive function tests.
Yep—you can even drink your way to a more powerful brain. There have been multiple studies on just how great red wine is for your noggin: One found found the resveratrol in every glass can help protect the brain’s neurons, which slows down the aging process. And another discovered those who had just one drink a day had a 23 percent reduced risk of mental decline than those who didn’t.
If you’ve seen peach-colored berries lying around the sidewalk that just so happen to smell absolutely horrendous (some say it’s similar to dog poop and/or vomit—and honestly, they’re right), there’s a good chance it’s from a Ginkgo tree. Also known as the “brain herb,” ginkgo has been used to treat dementia thanks to its ability to improve blood flow to the brain, says the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Cabbage isn’t the only cruciferous vegetable in town that’s rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. Thanks to taking in all those antioxidants, one study found Brussels sprouts can also help your brain fight off all the bad guys trying to impact its cognitive health, helping you keep your memory strong as you age.
With one of the highest amounts of lutein there is—right behind kale and spinach—dandelion greens are worth adding to your plate. One 2015 study found eating the leafy green can help slow cognitive decline, keeping your brain sharp.
Sprinkling some sage onto your food can actually give your brain some thinking power. A 2003 study found those who took extracts of the green spice before cognitive tests actually performed better than those who didn’t.
Zinc and brain power go hand in hand, and pumpkin seeds just so happen to be full of it. The metal is known for its ability to support memory function, help with ADHD, and even keep your brain healthy as you age, says a 2006 study. Considering it’s pumpkin season, there’s no better time to get your fix—even if you have to do some festive carving to do it.
Açaí doesn’t care whether you know how to pronounce it or not; it’s still going to help your brain out either way. The tropical fruit—that’s become #InstaFamous thanks to being a great smoothie bowl ingredient—has high antioxidant levels that could help protect against Alzheimer’s, says a 2013 study.
Starting your day with tea is going to do a whole lot more than just energize you. A 2006 study looked at green tea’s effect on the brain and found drinking it was associated with a lower prevalence of cognitive impairment. Even more interesting? Study authors say the results could also explain why dementia is rarer in parts of the world where green tea is most popular—like Japan—opposed to Europe and North America.
Red wine’s brain-boosting benefits are all thanks to the antioxidant-packed grapes it’s made of, and that’s exactly why you need to snack on the source. A study earlier this year found eating grapes twice a day isn’t just great for anyone who’s having memory-related issues, but they can also help improve your attention span.
Whether you like them hot or not, peppers are great for the brain. Like celery, the veggie contains luteolin, which has been found to reduce inflammation as you age and help keep your memory in check. Dress and pair those peppers up right with our guide on how to Cook a Steak at Home Like a Pro.
OK, OK—water might not be “food,” per se. But it’s definitely brain food. A 2013 study found being dehydrated—even just a little bit—can have a huge impact on the brain’s performance. So drink up: It’s the easiest way to help improve your brain function and make sure your mind stays strong.
There’s never been a better time to add thyme into your diet. A 2015 study found the herb contains apigenin, a substance that helps improve neuron formation in the brain.
Chia seeds might be small, but they sure are mighty. Jam-packed with omega-3s, tossing some into your smoothie every morning can help your brain function properly, says the University of Maryland Medical Center.
A relaxing cup of chamomile tea can do your brain some good. One study found it contains a substance that has the potential to treat everything from depression to Alzheimer’s disease, keeping your brain nice and strong.
Obviously sweetcorn is a summer must, but a 2016 study found eating it year-round can help slow down or prevent cognitive decline thanks to the lutein it contains.
Another herb to add to your must-have list is parsley. Sure, it’s typically used for garnish—but one study found adding it into your dishes too will help strengthen connections between brain cells.
Flax has been eaten for its many benefits for thousands of years, but one in particular is huge for the brain. Because flaxseeds are full of healthy fats, they not only help boost memory and performance, but are also important for behavioral function, says the University of Maryland Medical Center.
These little red berries have it all. Full of antioxidants, the superfood hasn’t just been found to improve digestion and overall well-being—a small study also found they can have a positive effect on brain activity.
One berry you should add into your diet more often? Raspberries. Because they’re full of flavonoids, you can count on them to help give your brain a little extra power. A 2012 study found they can help even help delay cognitive aging.
Maybe you like them fresh, or maybe you like them in ketchup-form—but either way, the lutein in tomatoes have been found to help keep the brain strong as you age, says a 2016 study.
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