Food for Thought: 11 Foods for Brain Health

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Our diets have an impact on almost all areas of our health, including the health of our brains. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s Healthy Brains Initiative, diet is one of the 6 Pillars of Brain Health. The foods we eat can affect cognitive ability and even brain structure.  Key nutrients that support brain health include omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and B vitamins. A wide variety of foods contain these nutrients, but some are better sources than others. Try making these 11 foods for brain health a part of your regular diet.

1. Berries

Antioxidant-rich berries are one of the most popular foods used to support brain health because they are delicious, easily accessible, and can be used in multiple ways. Deeply colored berries like blueberries have the most benefits because they contain anthocyanins, which 

2. Oily Fish

Oily fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help build and repair brain cells. A 2017 study found that people who consumed high levels of omega-3 fatty acids had increased blood flow to the brain. Oily fish rich in omega-3s include:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel

3. Leafy Greens

Leafy greens are a good source of antioxidants, vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Try adding these greens to your salads and side dishes:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Collards
  • Cabbage
  • Beet Greens
  • Swiss Chard

4. Broccoli

Broccoli is rich in brain-healthy antioxidants like vitamin C and flavonoids.  Broccoli also contains compounds called glucosinolates, which the body breaks down into compounds called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates can lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Other cruciferous vegetables that have glucosinolates include:

  • Kale
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Turnips
  • Bok Choy

5. Coffee

Not only does your morning cup of coffee help you wake up and focus, but it may help brain health in other ways. Caffeine has been linked to an increase in the brain’s capacity for processing information. Coffee is also a source of antioxidants that can reduce the risk of cognitive decline, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke.

6. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are packed with nutrients that make them beneficial foods for brain health. They contain healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E, all of which are linked to brain health benefits. Some nuts and seeds, like pumpkin seeds, are also rich in zinc, magnesium, copper, and iron. Walnuts have been shown to be one of the best options because they also contain omega-3 fatty acids, but some other options include:

  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Cashews
  • Brazil nuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Sunflower oil

7. Whole Grains

Whole grains are a good source of vitamin E. Try working these grains into your diet:

  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Whole oats
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole grain pasta

8. Avocados

Avocados are a well-known source of healthy, unsaturated fat. Like other sources of monounsaturated fats, avocados can help reduce blood pressure. Because high blood pressure has been linked to cognitive decline, avocados are good foods for brain health. 

9. Peanuts

You may be wondering why this food wasn’t included in the list of nuts and seeds above. Peanuts are actually legumes and not nuts. Like many legumes, peanuts have a good nutritional profile. They are full of unsaturated fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Peanuts contain an antioxidant called resveratrol, which may help protect against dementia, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

10. Eggs

Eggs are a staple in many diets because they are an easy source of protein, but eggs are good foods for brain health as well. Eggs contain B vitamins (B-6, B-12, folic acid) that have been linked to delays in cognitive decline. These vitamins may also prevent brain shrinkage.

11. Dark Chocolate

For many, dark chocolate is a favorite treat among the list of foods for brain health. Dark chocolate with high cocoa content is a good source of antioxidants called flavonoids. Flavonoids may improve blood flow to the brain. Flavonoids may also improve memory and slow mental decline. Make sure to choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. 

Regional Neurological Associates has been providing patients in the Bronx and Westchester with comprehensive neurological care for more than 20 years. Our board-certified neurologists specialize in treating and managing neurologic conditions like headaches and migraines, movement and balance disorders, neuromuscular disorders and strokes. Call (718) 515-4347 to make an appointment.