Certain foods, including fatty fish, blueberries, and broccoli, contain compounds that may support your brain health and function.

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As the control center of your body, your brain is in charge of keeping your heart beating and lungs breathing and allowing you to move, feel, and think.

Eating certain foods can help you keep your brain in peak working condition.

This article lists 11 foods that support healthy brain function.

1. Fatty fish

When people talk about brain foods, fatty fish is often at the top of the list, as it is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (1).

Fatty fish can include:

  • salmon
  • trout
  • albacore tuna
  • herring
  • sardines

About 60% of your brain is made of fat, and just over half of that fat is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain uses omega-3s to build brain and nerve cells, and these fats are essential for learning and memory (2).

Omega-3s may slow age-related mental decline and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease (3, 4, 5).

On the flip side, not getting enough omega-3s is linked to cognitive impairments, as well as depression (6, 7).

In general, eating fish seems to have health benefits.

Some research also suggests people who regularly eat fish tend to have more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter contains nerve cells that control decision-making, memory, and emotion (8).

Summary

Fatty fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, a major building block of the brain. Omega-3s play a role in memory and improving mood, as well as protecting against cognitive decline.

2. Coffee

Two main components in coffee — caffeine and antioxidants — can help support brain health.

The caffeine found in coffee has several positive effects on the brain, including (9):

  • Increased alertness: Caffeine keeps your brain alert by blocking adenosine, a chemical messenger that makes you feel sleepy.
  • Improved mood: Caffeine may also boost some of your “feel-good” neurotransmitters, such as dopamine.
  • Sharpened concentration: One study found that caffeine consumption led to short-term improvements in attention and alertness in participants completing a cognition test (10).

Drinking coffee over the long term is also linked to a reduced risk of neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The largest risk reduction was seen in those adults who consume 3-4 cups daily (9, 11).

This could be partly due to coffee’s high concentration of antioxidants (9).

But drinking too much coffee or having caffeine too close to bedtime can negatively impact your sleep. This can have negative consequences on your brain and memory.

Summary

Coffee can help boost alertness and mood. It may also offer some protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, thanks to its content of caffeine and antioxidants.

3. Blueberries

Blueberries provide numerous health benefits, including some specifically for your brain.

Blueberries and other deeply colored berries deliver anthocyanins, a group of plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (12).

Antioxidants act against oxidative stress and inflammation, which can contribute to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases (13).

Some of the antioxidants in blueberries have been found to accumulate in the brain and help improve communication between brain cells (12, 14).

Try sprinkling them over your breakfast cereal, adding them to a smoothie, or enjoying them for a simple snack.

Summary

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants that may delay brain aging and improve memory.

4. Turmeric

Turmeric is a deep-yellow spice that is a key ingredient in curry powder.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning it can directly enter the brain. It’s a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that may provide the following benefits (15, 16):

  • May benefit memory: Curcumin may help improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s. It may also help clear the amyloid plaques that occur with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Eases depression: Curcumin boosts serotonin and dopamine, both of which improve mood. One review suggested curcumin may improve symptoms of depression and anxiety when used alongside standard treatments in people diagnosed with depression (17).
  • Helps new brain cells grow: Curcumin boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a growth hormone that helps brain cells grow. It may help delay age-related mental decline, but more research is needed (18, 19).

Most studies use highly concentrated curcumin supplements in doses ranging from 500–2,000 mg daily, much more curcumin than most people consume when using turmeric as a spice. This is because turmeric is only made up of around 3–6% curcumin (20).

Summary

Turmeric and its active compound curcumin have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, which help the brain. In research, it has reduced symptoms of depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Broccoli

Broccoli is packed with powerful plant compounds, including antioxidants (21).

It’s also very high in vitamin K, delivering more than 100% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) in a 1-cup (160-gram) serving of cooked broccoli (22).

This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for forming sphingolipids, a type of fat that’s densely packed into brain cells (23).

Some research in older adults links a higher vitamin K intake with better memory and cognitive status (24).

Broccoli also contains compounds, such as sulforaphane, that provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and may help protect the brain against damage. Sulforaphane levels are highly concentrated in broccoli sprouts (25).

Summary

Broccoli contains a number of compounds that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, including vitamin K and sulforaphane.

6. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds contain antioxidants that may protect the body and brain from free-radical damage (26).

They’re also an excellent source of other nutrients important for brain health, including (27):

  • Zinc: This element is crucial for nerve signaling. Zinc deficiency has been linked to many neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and Parkinson’s disease (28).
  • Magnesium: Magnesium is essential for learning and memory. Low magnesium levels are linked to many neurological diseases, including migraine, depression, and epilepsy (29).
  • Copper: Your brain uses copper to help control nerve signals. Imbalances in your copper levels may increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s (30).
  • Iron: Iron deficiency is often characterized by brain fog and impaired brain function (31).

The research focuses mainly on these micronutrients rather than pumpkin seeds themselves. However, since pumpkin seeds are high in these micronutrients, you can likely reap their benefits by adding them to your diet.

Summary

Pumpkin seeds are rich in many micronutrients that are important for brain function, including copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc.

7. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate has a 70% or greater cocoa content and contains brain-boosting compounds, including flavonoids, caffeine, and antioxidants.

Flavonoids are a group of antioxidant plant compounds. These compounds may enhance memory and help slow age-related mental decline (32, 33).

One study also found that participants who ate dark chocolate experienced a positive increase in mood and greater gut microbiome diversity compared to those who did not eat chocolate. The research suggests that dark chocolate may have a prebiotic effect that can improve negative emotional states through the gut-brain connection (34).

Summary

The flavonoids in chocolate may help protect the brain. Studies suggest eating chocolate, especially dark chocolate, could boost both memory and mood.

8. Nuts

Research has shown that eating nuts can improve heart health markers, and having a healthy heart is linked to having a healthy brain and a lower risk of neurological disorders (35).

One study found that regular consumption of nuts could be linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline in older adults (36).

Several nutrients in nuts, such as healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E, may explain their beneficial effects on brain health (37, 38).

Vitamin E protects cells against free-radical damage to help slow mental decline (39).

While all nuts are good for your brain, walnuts may have an extra edge since they also deliver anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (38).

Summary

Nuts contain a host of brain-boosting nutrients, including vitamin E, healthy fats, and plant compounds.

9. Oranges

You can get almost all the vitamin C you need daily by eating one medium orange (39).

Eating oranges and other foods high in vitamin C may help prevent mental decline (40).

According to one study, having higher levels of vitamin C in the blood was associated with improvements in tasks involving focus, memory, attention, and decision speed (41).

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce the free radicals that can damage brain cells. Plus, vitamin C supports brain health as you age and may protect against conditions like major depressive disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease (42).

You can also get high amounts of vitamin C from other foods like bell peppers, guava, kiwi, tomatoes, and strawberries.

Summary

Oranges and other foods that are high in vitamin C can help defend your brain against damage from free radicals.

10. Eggs

Eggs are a good source of nutrients tied to brain health, including vitamins B6 and B12, folate, and choline (43).

Choline is an essential micronutrient your body uses to create acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and memory. The liver produces a small amount, but you must get choline from food to get the necessary amount. Higher intakes may be linked to better memory and mental function (44).

Adequate choline intake is 425 mg per day for most females and 550 mg per day for males. A single egg contains 147 mg (44).

B vitamins found in eggs also support brain health.

They may help slow the progression of mental decline in older adults by lowering levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that could be linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (45).

Being deficient in two types of B vitamins — folate and B12 — has been linked to depression (46).

Folate deficiency is common in older people with dementia, and studies show that folic acid supplements can help minimize age-related mental decline (47).

Vitamin B12 is also involved in synthesizing brain chemicals and regulating sugar levels in the brain (48).

There’s little direct research on the link between eating eggs and brain health. However, research supports the brain-boosting benefits of the specific nutrients in eggs.

Summary

Eggs are a rich source of several B vitamins and choline, which are important for regulating mood and promoting proper brain function and development.

11. Green tea

Green tea contains caffeine, which may boost brain function and improve alertness, performance, memory, and focus (49).

Green tea also has other components that support brain health.

L-theanine is an amino acid that can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps reduce anxiety and makes you feel more relaxed (50, 51).

One review found that the L-theanine in green tea can help you relax by counteracting the stimulating effects of caffeine (52).

Green tea is also rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that could protect the brain from mental decline and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease (53).

Green tea may also help improve memory (54).

Summary

Green tea contains caffeine, which boosts alertness, antioxidants, which help protect the brain, and L-theanine, which can help you relax.

What is the best food for your brain?

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish and walnuts, and antioxidants, including berries, broccoli, and pumpkin seeds, help support healthy brain function.

What are the 5 brain killer foods?

Some foods that may negatively impact brain function include sugar-sweetened beverages, refined carbohydrates, and foods high in salt (55).

What is good brain food before a test?

Some foods and drinks, such as dark chocolate and green tea, may support focus and memory (49).

What is the best brain food snack?

Some brain-boosting foods that you can eat on the go include nuts, citrus fruit, dark chocolate, and hard-boiled eggs.

The bottom line

Some foods, such as the fruits and vegetables in this list and tea and coffee, have antioxidants and other nutrients that help protect your brain from damage, support memory, improve mood, and support brain development.

You can help support your brain health by strategically including these foods in your diet.

Just one thing

Try this today: Just as important as including these brain-boosting foods in your diet is steering clear of foods that can negatively impact brain health. Learn which foods can negatively impact your brain.