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7 Foods That Support Brain Health, According to a Dietician

Woman cutting walnuts on a cutting board.

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June is Brain and Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, an annual observance to highlight the importance of brain health and raise awareness for progressive neurological and neurodegenerative diseases.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing the disease, many of which involve your diet and lifestyle.

What Is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that causes a person's memory and thinking skills to decline. It is the most common cause of dementia in older adults.

And aside from reducing your risk of brain diseases in the future, eating certain foods can help boost your brainpower today.

Here are 7 dietitian-recommended foods rich in important nutrients that support healthy brain function.

Blueberries

Scientists are increasingly invested in figuring out all the ways that blueberries can support a healthy diet, particularly looking at the possible benefits for brain health.

In one 2018 study researchers took a group of people between the age of 60 and 75 years old and divided them into two groups. One group ate 24 grams of freeze-dried blueberries a day for 90 days, and the other group received placebo blueberries.

At the end of the 90 days, each group underwent tests looking at their verbal memory and task-switching skills. The people in the group who ate blueberries daily performed better than the placebo group.

Blueberries are easy to add to yogurt, cereal, salads, baked goods, and smoothies. They also work well on their own as a quick snack.

In another study, researchers scanned the brains of adults with mild cognitive impairment (a risk factor for dementia) to get a baseline of their working memory function. Then, they asked participants to eat a blueberry-supplemented diet for 16 weeks.

After the 16 weeks, the researchers tested the participants' brain function again and noted that the people who ate blueberries showed increased BOLD (blood oxygen level-dependent) activation in certain parts of the brain, suggesting enhanced brain activity.

Eggs

Eggs are one of the most powerful foods that you can include in your diet to support your brain health. They are one of the richest food sources of choline—a nutrient that supports cognitive function.

Most adults need to consume between 425 mg and 550 mg of choline every day, but approximately 90% of Americans are choline-deficient. 

While eggs are a breakfast staple, you can include them at every meal. You can snack on a hard-boiled egg, have an egg sandwich for lunch, and even add eggs to an entree at dinner.

Egg yolks also contain a carotenoid called lutein. Although lutein is thought to support eye health, it may also play an important role in brain health.

Similar to how lutein accumulates in the eye, it’s also present in the brain. Higher levels of lutein led to better cognitive function in older adults and better academic performance in children.

Walnuts

Walnuts contain many unique compounds, such as ALA omega-3 fatty acids, that support a healthy brain. They combat oxidative stress and inflammation—two drivers of cognitive decline. 

One study in 2020 looked at the effect of supplementing the diets of more than 600 older adults with walnuts for two years. The results of the study suggested that eating walnuts might help delay cognitive decline in the older adults who were at risk for it.

For a quick and easy boost of nutrition, add a handful of walnuts to your yogurt parfait, salad, or baked goods.

In another study that included more than 3,000 older adults in the United States, the researchers found that the people who reported eating any amount of walnuts scored higher on cognitive function tests than people who did not eat walnuts.

100% Orange Juice

Starting your day off with a glass of 100% orange juice will provide your body with several brain-supporting compounds, including:

100% orange juice isn't just for breakfast—you can use it in marinades, add a splash to smoothies, and mix it with sparkling water.

Results from one study in 2015 showed that healthy older adults who drank high-flavanone, 100% OJ every day for 8 weeks scored better on cognitive function tests than people who drank a low-flavanone orange-flavored drink.

A 2019 study published in Neurology looked at the diets and cognitive function of more than 27,000 men in the U.S. The researchers found that drinking orange juice might lead to a lower risk of memory loss over time.

Salmon

Salmon, along with other oily fish like sardines, naturally contain key omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known boosters of brain health, and some studies even suggest that consuming them may slow the progression of age-related mental decline.

According to a meta-analysis that included more than 27,000 people, regularly eating fish like salmon resulted in a 20% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s-type dementia.

Green Tea

Sipping green tea may boost your brain from the caffeine it provides, but it also naturally contains compounds that can help sharpen your mind in other ways.

Green tea is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants—two components that help keep the brain healthy by fighting oxidative stress. 

A 2014 study linked the consumption of a drink made with green tea extract to improved working memory function. 

Mushrooms 

Mushrooms naturally contain two nutrients that your body needs to function properly: copper and niacin. The fungi are also a versatile food that can be eaten on their own or added to many dishes for more flavor and texture.

If you don't like to eat mushrooms by themselves, try blending them with ground meat to make burgers.

Findings from a 2019 study show that people who ate two or more servings of mushrooms per week performed better on thinking and processing tests. They also experienced lower odds of mild cognitive impairment compared to people who ate mushrooms less than once a week.

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16 Sources
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