Brain boosting games like puzzles and word searches seem to get all the glory, but the foods you eat can be just as important when it comes to brain health.
So we asked an expert – which foods help prevent cognitive decline?
5 brain-powering foods
Melissa Keeney, RDN, registered dietitian at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, suggests these five foods to promote brain health:
- Green leafy vegetables. Kale, spinach, collards and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotene.
- Fish. Fish is an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids and healthy unsaturated fats, which can improve focus and memory.
- Berries. The natural pigments that give berries their hues also help improve memory. A study done at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women who ate two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week delayed memory decline.
- Walnuts. Sources of protein and healthy fats, walnuts are high in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
- Avocados. Avocados are packed with monounsaturated fats shown to lower rates of cognitive decline and keep blood sugar levels steady. They are also rich in vitamins B, C and K.
“These foods are just a starting point. Including a variety of foods will give you a variety of nutrients. Foods that feed your gut and turn on your brain include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds,” Keeney says.
> Related: This Is Your Brain on Junk Food: Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Cognitive Decline
Here’s why these “super foods” help
Brain foods are rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. These provide the brain with the energy and protect brain cells, which in turn helps prevent cognitive decline.
“The bacteria in our gut influence our brain’s immune system by producing inflammatory or anti-inflammatory markers. Long-term inflammation can play a role in brain health- for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis,” says Keeney.
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Tips for incorporating these foods into your diet
Trying new foods can be frightening, so pace yourself. It takes multiple tries to enjoy a particular food and it might depend on how you prepare it. Start with a food like spinach and work your way to avocados. You may find you like one more than another, and, from there you can incorporate that food into your diet.
The stress of following a strict diet can be detrimental, so aim for small changes and remember that all foods can be part of a “healthy” diet. A registered dietitian-nutritionist can give you personalized and sustainable advice on making realistic changes to your meals and snacks.