Foods that boost brainpower

John Murphy, MDLinx | April 09, 2019

You can’t simply buy a jar of “brain food” with the hope that it will reduce cognitive decline and sharpen mental acuity. (Wait, you actually can buy a jar of brain food! But—is it worth the money?) Here’s a better idea: Eat a healthy selection of foods that are good for your noodle. These brain-boosting foods, described below, contain natural ingredients like vitamins, flavonoids, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, they’re much less expensive, more fun to eat, and easier to buy than a jar of brain food.



Which nuts are best for your brain? These nuts.

Leafy vegetables

Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in important nutrients—including vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene—that keep the brain healthy. Researchers have found that these nutrients in green, leafy vegetables are linked to slower cognitive decline.

Fatty fish

Fatty fish—like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna—are an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a key to brain maintenance. But because humans can’t synthesize DHA, we need to get it from our diet. Experts recommend eating fatty fish at least twice a week.

Omega-3 fatty acids are not only important for brain function, but also have been linked to slower cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.


Eating mushrooms may promote cognitive health and reduce neurodegeneration, according to results of a recent study. Researchers found that seniors who consumed more than two servings of mushrooms per week reduced their risk of mild cognitive impairment by 50%.

Mushrooms used in the study included golden, oyster, shiitake, white button, dried, and canned mushrooms. But the researchers speculated that other types of mushroom may produce similar effects, thanks to a specific compound—ergothioneine—found in almost all varieties. Because people with an ergothioneine deficiency may have a higher risk for neurodegeneration, eating more mushrooms—a main source of ergothioneine—may promote cognitive health, the researchers reasoned.


Berries are a rich source of flavonoids—plant pigment compounds that are known to have antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti-carcinogenic properties. Flavonoids have also been shown to inhibit the production of amyloid beta in Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, researchers reported that older women who ate two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week demonstrated a delay in cognitive decline by up to 2 and a half years.

Tea and coffee

A cup of coffee or tea in the morning may do more than just give you a jolt of caffeine—it may also boost your brain function. In one study, participants with higher caffeine intake performed better on tests of cognitive function. In another study, researchers found that caffeine has a positive effect on long-term memory. Participants given caffeine performed better on tests of memory retention than participants on placebo.


Eating walnuts appears to improve measures of cognitive function. Specifically, adults who ate less than a handful of walnuts each day showed improved performance on tests of memory, concentration, and information-processing speed. In other studies, researchers have reported that eating walnuts is linked to overall brain health and reduced cognitive impairment, along with possible benefits of slowing or preventing Alzheimer’s disease progression in mouse models.

In addition to various vitamins and minerals, walnuts also have a high antioxidant content. And, they’re the only nut that contains a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid—a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that has both cardiovascular and brain-boosting health benefits.