Regardless of your age, there are some foods you can eat to invigorate your brain and protect your memory and cognitive abilities. Jennifer Coalson, RDN, LDN, Baptist Health wellness coach, shared four food components that can boost your brain health.
4 types of food to improve your brain health
1. Antioxidants, anthocyanins and polyphenols
These compounds work to eradicate free radicals and oxidative stress, or unstable cells that cause damage to healthy cells, in the body and protect your brain against effects like inflammation and a weakened immune system.
You can find these in dark-colored fruits and vegetables such as:
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, broccoli)
"Antioxidants play a special neuroprotective role in brain function. That means they protect the brain from environmental deterrents such as air pollutants and cigarette smoke, and can even reduce a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life," said Coalson. "All produce is excellent, but look for fruits and vegetables vibrant in color to get the highest antioxidant value."
2. B vitamins
There are eight B vitamins, and all of them help your body make healthy red blood cells and neurotransmitters, which are how your brain cells talk to each other.
To boost your B vitamin intake, eat foods like:
- Leafy greens
3. Beta carotene
Sweet potatoes and carrots get their beautiful color from beta carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A has been shown to improve verbal memory and performance on cognitive tests. However, high-dose supplementation is not recommended. Sweet potatoes also contain anthocyanins (see No. 1), antioxidants that can protect your brain.
Foods rich in beta carotene include:
- Sweet potatoes
4. Healthy fats
The goal is to avoid trans fats and add more omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats to your diet. These healthy fats found in oily fish build brain cells, reduce inflammation, and can improve your mood and memory. They also protect your heart. However, our bodies don't make them naturally; we have to get them from our diet.
You can do so by eating oily fish like:
Plant sources include:
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Daily habits and foods to improve your mind
Experts recommend adults eat five to seven servings of fruit and vegetables per day. That can be broken down to at least two servings of fruit (one cup equals one serving) and at least three servings of vegetables (one cup raw/half cup cooked/two cups leafy greens equal one serving).
"Have fun with it! You can add riced cauliflower to regular rice for an added kick without sacrificing flavor or texture. Another idea is to add a handful of spinach to your morning smoothie," Coalson recommended.
She added, "In my home, I aim to serve one to two cups of vegetables at lunch and dinner. I do this by planning my meals around the vegetables I have on hand, like adding diced bell peppers and zucchini to my marinara sauce that I serve over whole grain pasta. I also like to snack on cucumbers and tzatziki sauce."
Consult your doctor
Consuming these nutrients in their natural food form is preferred over taking supplements. However, if you feel you're unable to eat most of these foods, you can discuss options for a safe supplement with your primary care physician.
"It's best to eat foods in their natural and minimally processed form as opposed to opting for an antioxidant supplement or greens powder because you miss out on the fiber and balance that nature has created," Coalson said.
Do you have questions about healthy eating?