Your brain is kind of a big deal.

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

That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your brain in peak working condition.

The foods you eat play a role in keeping your brain healthy and can improve specific mental tasks, such as memory and concentration.

Share on Pinterest
1092646336 Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

This article lists 11 foods that boost your brain.

1. Fatty fish

When people talk about brain foods, fatty fish is often at the top of the list.

This type of fish includes salmon, trout, albacore tuna, herring, and sardines, all of which are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids (1).

About 60% of your brain is made of fat, and half of that fat is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids (2).

Your brain uses omega-3s to build brain and nerve cells, and these fats are essential for learning and memory (2, 3).

Omega-3s also offer several additional benefits for your brain.

For one thing, they may slow age-related mental decline and help ward off Alzheimer’s disease (4, 5, 6, 7).

On the flip side, not getting enough omega-3s is linked to learning impairments, as well as depression (3, 8).

In general, eating fish seems to have positive health benefits.

Some research also suggests that people who eat fish regularly tend to have more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter contains most of the nerve cells that control decision making, memory, and emotion (9).

Overall, fatty fish is an excellent choice for brain health.

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 sharpening memory and improving mood, as well as protecting your brain against cognitive decline.

2. Coffee

If coffee is the highlight of your morning, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s good for you.

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

The caffeine found in coffee has a number of positive effects on the brain, including (10):

  • Increased alertness. Caffeine keeps your brain alert by blocking adenosine, a chemical messenger that makes you feel sleepy (11, 12).
  • Improved mood. Caffeine may also boost some of your “feel-good” neurotransmitters, such as dopamine (13).
  • Sharpened concentration. One study found that caffeine consumption led to short-term improvements in attention and alertness in participants completing a cognition test (14).

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 consumes 3-4 cups daily (10, 15).

This could at least be partly due to coffee’s high concentration of antioxidants (16).

Summary

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

3. Blueberries

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

Blueberries and other deeply colored berries deliver anthocyanins, a group of plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (17).

Antioxidants act against both oxidative stress and inflammation, conditions that can contribute to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases (18).

Some of the antioxidants in blueberries have been found to accumulate in the brain and help improve communication between brain cells (17, 19).

According to one review of 11 studies, blueberries could help improve memory and certain cognitive processes in children and older adults (20).

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

Summary

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

4. Turmeric

Turmeric has generated a lot of buzz recently.

This deep-yellow spice is a key ingredient in curry powder and has a number of benefits for the brain.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning it can directly enter the brain and benefit the cells there (21).

It’s a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that has been linked to the following brain benefits:

  • May benefit memory. Curcumin may help improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s. It may also help clear the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of this disease (21, 22).
  • Eases depression. Curcumin boosts serotonin and dopamine, both of which improve mood. One review found that curcumin could improve symptoms of depression and anxiety when used alongside standard treatments in people diagnosed with depression (23, 24).
  • Helps new brain cells grow. Curcumin boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a type of growth hormone that helps brain cells grow. It may help delay age-related mental decline, but more research is needed (25, 26).

Keep in mind that most studies use highly concentrated curcumin supplements in doses ranging from 500–2,000 mg per day, which is much more curcumin than most people typically consume when using turmeric as a spice. This is because turmeric is only made up of around 3–6% curcumin (27).

Therefore, while adding turmeric to your food may be beneficial, you may need to use a curcumin supplement under a doctor’s guidance to obtain the results reported in these studies.

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 (28).

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 (29).

This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for forming sphingolipids, a type of fat that’s densely packed into brain cells (30).

A few studies in older adults have linked a higher vitamin K intake to better memory and cognitive status (31, 32).

Beyond vitamin K, broccoli contains a number of compounds that give it anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which may help protect the brain against damage (33).

Summary

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

6. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds contain powerful antioxidants that protect the body and brain from free-radical damage (34).

They’re also an excellent source of magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper (35).

Each of these nutrients is important for brain health:

  • 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 (36, 37, 38).
  • Magnesium. Magnesium is essential for learning and memory. Low magnesium levels are linked to many neurological diseases, including migraine, depression, and epilepsy (39, 40).
  • Copper. Your brain uses copper to help control nerve signals. And when copper levels are out of whack, there’s a higher risk of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s (41, 42.
  • Iron. Iron deficiency is often characterized by brain fog and impaired brain function (43).

The research focuses mostly 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 pumpkin seeds 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 and cocoa powder are packed with a few brain-boosting compounds, including flavonoids, caffeine, and antioxidants.

Dark chocolate has a 70% or greater cocoa content. These benefits are not seen with regular milk chocolate, which contains between 10–50% cocoa.

Flavonoids are a group of antioxidant plant compounds.

The flavonoids in chocolate gather in the areas of the brain that deal with learning and memory. Researchers believe that these compounds may enhance memory and also help slow down age-related mental decline (44, 45, 46).

In fact, a number of studies back this up (47, 48, 49).

According to one study in over 900 people, those who ate chocolate more frequently performed better in a series of mental tasks, including some involving memory, compared with those who rarely ate it (50).

Chocolate is also a legitimate mood booster, according to research.

One study found that participants who ate chocolate experienced increased positive feelings compared to those who ate crackers (51).

However, it’s still not clear whether that’s because of compounds in the chocolate or simply because the tasty flavor makes people happy.

Summary

The flavonoids in chocolate may help protect the brain. Studies have suggested that 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 (52, 53).

One study found that regular consumption of nuts could be linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline in older adults (54).

Also, another 2014 study found that women who ate nuts regularly over the course of several years had a sharper memory compared with those who did not eat nuts (55).

Several nutrients in nuts, such as healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E, may explain their beneficial effects on brain health (56, 57).

Vitamin E protects cells against free-radical damage to help slow mental decline (58, 59).

While all nuts are good for your brain, walnuts may have an extra edge, since they also deliver anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (57).

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 in a day by eating one medium orange (60).

Doing so is important for brain health since vitamin C is a key factor in preventing mental decline (61).

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 (62).

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight off 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 (63).

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 several nutrients tied to brain health, including vitamins B6 and B12, folate, and choline (64).

Choline is an important micronutrient that your body uses to create acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and memory (65, 66, 67).

Two older studies found that higher intakes of choline were linked to better memory and mental function (68, 69).

Nevertheless, many people do not get enough choline in their diet.

Eating eggs is an easy way to get choline, given that egg yolks are among the most concentrated sources of this nutrient.

Adequate intake of choline is 425 mg per day for most women and 550 mg per day for men, with just a single egg yolk containing 112 mg (65).

Furthermore, the B vitamins found in eggs also have several roles in brain health.

To start, 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 (70, 71).

Also, being deficient in two types of B vitamins — folate and B12 — has been linked to depression (72).

Folate deficiency is common in older people with dementia, and studies show that folic acid supplements can help minimize age-related mental decline (73, 74).

Vitamin B12 is also involved in synthesizing brain chemicals and regulating sugar levels in the brain (72).

It’s worth noting that there’s very little direct research on the link between eating eggs and brain health. However, there is research to support the brain-boosting benefits of the specific nutrients found 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

As is the case with coffee, the caffeine in green tea boosts brain function.

In fact, it has been found to improve alertness, performance, memory, and focus (75).

But green tea also has other components that make it a brain-healthy beverage.

One of them is L-theanine, 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 (76, 77).

L-theanine also increases the frequency of alpha waves in the brain, which helps you relax without making you feel tired (78).

One review found that the L-theanine in green tea can help you relax by counteracting the stimulating effects of caffeine (79).

It’s also rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that could protect the brain from mental decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (80, 81).

Plus, some studies have shown green tea helps improve memory (82, 83).

Summary

Green tea is an excellent beverage to support your brain. Its caffeine content boosts alertness, its antioxidants protect the brain, and L-theanine helps you relax.

The bottom line

Many foods can help keep your brain healthy.

Some foods, such as the fruits and vegetables in this list, as well as tea and coffee, have antioxidants that help protect your brain from damage.

Others, such as nuts and eggs, contain nutrients that support memory and brain development.

You can help support your brain health and boost your alertness, memory, and mood 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. Check out this article for a list of the 7 worst foods for your brain that you should limit or avoid.