This post contains links through which we may earn a small commission should you make a purchase from a brand. This in no way affects our ability to objectively critique the products and brands we review.
Evidence Based Research To fulfill our commitment to bringing our audience accurate and insightful content, our expert writers and medical reviewers rely on carefully curated research.
Read Our Editorial Policy
Together, omega-3 fatty acids, choline, lutein, and dozens of other nutrients sourced from foods act as fuel and protection for your brain.
Navigating the current knowledge base in regards to brain-boosting foods often feels strangely paradoxical, like we know too much and not enough at the same time.
The brain has a hundred billion neurons and plenty of yet unexplored “corners,” and every day, we learn something new about the brain-health benefits of foods we’ve been consuming for millennia.
We found that the best way to capture this subject without being overwhelmed by too much or too little information was to simply investigate foods and supplements we already know are healthy using a “brain nutrition” lens.
Before we roll out the top performers from our search, a rather unflattering look at the world’s current nutritional status will hopefully motivate you to encourage positive change in yourself and others.
Undernourishment Threatens Public Health
In the US and abroad, nutritional deficiencies threaten physical as well as mental wellbeing at an epidemic-level scale.
The World Health Organization reports alarming figures in the area of global undernutrition and malnutrition:
- 462 million adults are underweight
- 47 million children under 5 are “wasted,” 14.3 million are severely wasted
- Approx. 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition
- WHO makes the important distinction in this same report that every country is affected by this issue, regardless of economic standing.
- Aside from children, populations most vulnerable to malnutrition include pregnant women and adolescents.
As superficial beings, we tend to gauge our nutritional health using physical appearance, which is usually the key motivator in making dietary changes.
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel better, this focus tends to shift attention away from brain health, which is very much tied to nutrition.
Brain Foods Master List
The following list of brain foods is just a small example of how vital certain nutrients are to memory, focus, mood, and overall cognitive ability.
Avocados contain an ingredient called lutein that can prevent macular degeneration.
Lutein is especially relevant today because it is believed to protect against harmful blue light, as emitted from computers and other devices.
According to an article published by the University of Illinois Division of Nutritional Sciences, lutein also helps to shield important fatty acids in the brain that are especially vulnerable to free radical attack.
Avocados also contain fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, and more nutrients.
Kale, Arugula, and Spinach
The kale trend may be on the downslope, but this leafy green, along with its less successfully marketed predecessors (spinach and arugula), is absolutely flush with beta-carotene, antioxidants, vitamins A/C/K, selenium, potassium, and more.
These nutrients have been correlated with improved memory, vision, and cognition, and thanks to the powerful neuroprotectants on the roster, they can even prevent and slow the progression of dementia.
Among a litany of other healthy compounds, many of them already mentioned above, almonds contain a form of vitamin E called tocopherol.
There have been numerous positive correlations in research between high tocopherol levels and healthy cholesterol levels.
For example, a study conducted by the R & D department of Switzerland’s DSM Nutritional Products Ltd found this form of vitamin E to be a powerful antiatherogenic substance.
This means it can prevent the formation and hardening of arterial plaques that cause heart attacks and strokes.
Most people know that salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, but the mention of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is unlikely to ring a bell.
DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is not only fundamental to a brain’s health, but to its very composition.
More than 95% of the omega-3 fatty acids found in the brain are DHA, a compound that has been verified by this study to reap the following benefits in the brain:
- Cell differentiation and growth.
- Decrease risk of dementia and cognitive decline
Finally, this University of Alberta study explains that DHA can regulate membrane fluidity in brain cells, meaning it helps important molecules pass in and out of the cells more efficiently.
Pasture-raised eggs are especially beneficial when it comes to brain health because they contain less artificial hormones.
The nutrient we’re highlighting here is choline, which has been proven in research to protect against age-related decline, including dementia or more general cases of “brain fog.”
This 1391-participant Boston University School of Public Health study demonstrates how choline improved verbal and visual memory.
You’ve likely already heard the antioxidant spiel—they help counteract free radicals, protect against Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, and can even slow aging.
A University of Illinois study shines light on a little-known benefit of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant found in berries.
According to the study, anthocyanins can reduce the loss of motor function associated with age-related deficits, which bears huge importance in the effort to maintain function later in life without adding more synthetic opioids to the list.
The more researchers learn about the nutrients found in blueberries, the more they look like a neon sign from nature that reads “anti-aging food” in all caps.
Closing the Gap with High-Quality Supplements
Most of us can’t prepare fresh, healthy meals every day, which is why supplements are essential for covering nutritional gaps.
We’re busy, distracted, imperfect beings, and that means we sometimes fall short of our nutritional goals.
Using high-quality, brain-boosting supplements is an excellent tool for incorporating just a smidge of forgiveness into your newly modified nutrition routine so you can cover the nutritional gap.
Powerful nootropic supplement that enhances blood flow to the brain and exerts protective effects.
Silk Protein Hydrolysate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Maltodextrin, Glyceryl Monostearate, Croscarmellose Sodium, Silicon Dioxide, Stearic Acid, Magnesium Stearate, Methylcellulose, Glycerin
For example, Natrol makes a supplement called Cognium, a research-supported, stimulant-free product that utilizes a special kind of protein called silk hydrolysate to enhance blood flow to the brain while protecting it with antioxidant properties.
Of course, this isn’t a green light to gorge on fast food, but smart supplementation will partially offset some of the damage done by poor dietary choices while enhancing the effects of your good choices.