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4 Foods Your Brain Will Love

Nourish yourself for better brainpower.

Updated on January 30, 2023

woman eating healthy breakfast with blueberries
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You likely knew that eating a wholesome, balanced diet could power your body, lower your risk of chronic disease, and help you maintain a healthy weight. But those aren’t the only reasons you should focus on nutritious foods: They may be able to boost your brainpower, too.

“I always advise people to eat around the color wheel, which supports not only body health, but mind health, as well,” says Tanzila Shams Kulman, MD, a neurologist in Ohio. “There's no one food that is the answer, but you have to educate yourself and read labels.”

With that in mind, here are a few delicious, easy-to-find foods for potentially better brain function.

bowl of blueberries
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Blueberries

Blueberries don’t just make for a good muffin ingredient—multiple studies suggest they may help protect against age-related brain changes. A small 2022 clinical trial published in the journal Nutrients, for example, looked at overweight adults from ages 50 to 65 who reported experiencing cognitive decline. After 12 weeks, those who regularly supplemented with blueberry powder experienced improvements in executive functions like memory and self-control.

“Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, [compounds that] support brain health and one’s overall cognitive abilities,” says Dr. Kulman. “Antioxidants prevent aging by destroying the free radicals, which cause most of the damage in the aging process. Free radical buildup causes aging at the cellular level in all your organs including your brain cells.”

dark chocolate
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Dark Chocolate

Flavanols are a group of plant nutrients linked to lower blood pressure, blood clot prevention, reduced cognitive decline, and improved brain performance. In some studies, cocoa flavanols found in dark chocolate have been associated with improved thinking skills in both healthy adults and older adults with mild cognitive impairment. While scientists are still trying to understand how flavanols affect cognition, some theorize they may help boost blood flow to the brain. 

Should you choose to indulge, dark chocolate is your best bet due to its high cocoa content. Since store-bought chocolate tends to be high in added sugar and saturated fat, limit yourself to 1 ounce per day.

bowls of nuts
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Nuts

Nuts such as pecans, walnuts, almonds, and peanuts are loaded with protein, vitamins, and minerals—all of which can benefit your overall health. But walnuts in particular are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been repeatedly linked to improved cognitive function. 

How do they work? Omega-3s (DHA mainly) are part of the membrane of neurons and are involved in signaling. They are also necessary for neuron growth and plasticity, and may even fight age-related changes. The body doesn’t produce omega-3s on its own—you can only get them through diet.

Try to eat 1 small handful of nuts each day. For walnuts, that comes out to 12 to 14 halves. “One trick is to always keep your nuts in the freezer so those omega-3 fatty acids don't spoil and go rancid in the cupboard,” Kulman advises.

a cup of green tea
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Green Tea

For millennia, green tea has been used in Asia for medicinal purposes—and once you learn about the potential brain benefits, you may want to start sipping, too. 

  • A 2021 review in the journal Molecules concluded that drinking green tea daily could help slow age-related cognitive decline. 
  • Another review, published in 2017 in Phytomedicine, found that regular intake may boost memory, attention, and brain function.
  • A small study published in Psychopharmcology in 2014 found that green tea extracts were linked to improved connectivity in the brain, perhaps boosting cognitive performance, and particularly working memory tasks.

Green tea’s benefits may be due to its caffeine content, as well as its rich supply of flavonoids and antioxidants. Drinking it may also benefit your heart health—which in turn, helps protect your brain. Some studies suggest a regular cup or two of green tea can help improve blood pressure and cholesterol.

view of a hand dispensing soda from a fountain into a paper cup
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Foods to Avoid

To help protect your brain health, limit or avoid eating foods that are high in added sugar, such as packaged snacks and soda. Not only do these items promote inflammation, they can cause insulin levels in your blood to spike. In the short term, this may cause “brain fog.” Over time, these repetitive spikes can lead to diabetes, which damages tiny blood vessels in the brain and can contribute to dementia.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Kalt W, Cassidy A, Howard LR, et al. Recent Research on the Health Benefits of Blueberries and Their Anthocyanins. Adv Nutr. 2020 Mar 1;11(2):224-236.
Cheatham CL, Canipe III LG, Milsap G, et al. Six-month intervention with wild blueberries improved speed of processing in mild cognitive decline: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Nutritional Neuroscience. 2022.
Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Nash TA, et al. Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14;58(7):3996-4000.
Krikorian R, Skelton MR, Summer SS, et al. Blueberry Supplementation in Midlife for Dementia Risk Reduction. Nutrients. 2022 Apr 13;14(8):1619.
Harvard Health Publishing. A flavanol-rich diet may increase brain function. March 1, 2021.
Socci V, Tempesta D, Desideri G, De Gennaro L, Ferrara M. Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids. Front Nutr. 2017 May 16;4:19.
Maaliki D, Shaito AA, et al. Flavonoids in hypertension: a brief review of the underlying mechanisms. Current Opinion in Pharmacology. April 2019. Volume 45, pp 57-65.
Kozłowska A, Szostak-Węgierek D. Targeting Cardiovascular Diseases by Flavonols: An Update. Nutrients. 2022 Mar 30;14(7):1439.
Gratton G, Weaver SR, Burley CV, et al. Dietary flavanols improve cerebral cortical oxygenation and cognition in healthy adults. Sci Rep. 2020 Nov 24;10(1):19409.
Desideri G, Kwik-Uribe C, et al. Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive Impairment. Hypertension. 2012;60:794–801.
Calabrò RS, De Cola MC, Gervasi G, et al. The Efficacy of Cocoa Polyphenols in the Treatment of Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Retrospective Study. Medicina (Kaunas). 2019 May 17;55(5):156.
Chauhan A, Chauhan V. Beneficial Effects of Walnuts on Cognition and Brain Health. Nutrients. 2020 Feb 20;12(2):550. 
Kathy Beerman. Can walnut consumption benefit brain health? American Society for Nutrition. January 16, 2020.
Cutuli D. Functional and Structural Benefits Induced by Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids During Aging. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2017;15(4):534-542.
NIH: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Green Tea. Last updated October 2020.
Unno K, Nakamura Y. Green Tea Suppresses Brain Aging. Molecules. 2021 Aug 12;26(16):4897.
Mancini E, Beglinger C, Drewe J, et al. Green tea effects on cognition, mood and human brain function: A systematic review. Phytomedicine. 2017 Oct 15;34:26-37.
Schmidt A, Hammann F, Wölnerhanssen B, et al. Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2014 Oct;231(19):3879-88. 
Xu R, Yang K, Ding J, Chen G. Effect of green tea supplementation on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Medicine (Baltimore). 2020 Feb;99(6):e19047. 
Xu, R., Yang, K., Li, S. et al. Effect of green tea consumption on blood lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr J 19, 48 (2020).
Harvard Health Publishing. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. September 18, 2022.
Harvard Medical School. Sugar and the Brain. Spring 2016.

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