Finding the best brain foods for memory is a serious endeavor for many people. Even short term sporadic memory loss can be a huge hassle. Therefore, brain health is crucial for living your best life.
What is Brain Health?
Let's start with a definition of brain health. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
"A healthy brain is one that can perform all the mental processes that are collectively known as cognition, including the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language, and remembering."1a
Mental decline affects all of these functions, especially memory.
The Risk of Cognitive Decline
Brain function that gradually declines is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. This, the most common type of dementia, affects one in ten Americans aged 65 and older (approximately 5.8 million seniors).1b It's a progressive condition that usually starts with random short term memory loss. For example, you may forget names once in a while.
Eventually these memory lapses become more frequent and disturbing. You may misplace items more often and become easily confused or even worse...forget your past and your name. This condition can also affect your body, leading to a loss of speech or difficulty walking.
But that's a worst case scenario.
Memory Issues Are Increasing
Though the risk of Alzheimer's is very real, you don't have to be diagnosed with this condition to suffer memory lapses. In 2018, one in nine adults over 45 reported a decline in cognitive function, especially memory.2a Could these memory issues be linked to poor-quality diet and the foods you routinely consume? It's very possible.
What Helps Improve Memory?
Research suggests that a good quality diet that includes plenty of brain supporting foods is one of the best ways to boost cognition.
For instance, a study conducted at Brigham and Women's hospital suggests a direct link between our diet and our brain health and memory. Namely, the women in the study who ate the most saturated fats scored lower on tests of thinking and memory than the women who ate lower amounts of these fats.2b
This is not the only study showing a link between a healthy diet and a healthy brain. If a poor quality diet can dull the memory, then surely eating the right foods may sharpen it.
Foods To Boost Memory
Here are 5 foods that studies show may improve memory and concentration, helping to keep your brain sharp well into your golden years and beyond.
Spinach To Boost Mental Function
If you want to have a healthy mind and body, you'll want to add spinach to your diet. Remember the spinach that Popeye ate for muscle strength? Turns out that spinach is a great brain food, as well. Spinach is a rich source of folate (vitamin B-9) crucial to brain development and function.
Severe folate deficiency has long been associated with dementia. Multiple clinical studies suggest that folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, taken in supplement form may boost memory and support brain health.2c, 3a
In addition, spinach and other leafy greens are a rich source of nutrients known to protect the brain and enhance memory. For instance, leafy greens are loaded with vitamin K. Though known for its crucial role in blood-clotting, this vitamin appears to play an equally important role in the nervous system. Specifically, it participates in the creation of an important class of lipids abundantly present in brain cell membranes.3b
Age-related cognitive decline and neurological conditions such as dementia have been linked to changes in these types of lipids. Therefore, studies suggest that eating leafy greens like spinach and other foods that contain vitamin K may improve cognitive function and boost memory.
Getting more spinach in your diet is easy. For example, you can add it to your salad, or blend it into your smoothies. Or, you can also chop it up and add it to your stew or soup recipe. Spinach has a mild flavor, so you probably won't taste it. So purchase some spinach today. Your brain and your body will thank you.
Beef To Slow Cognitive Decline
We've all heard that the body needs beef to "bulk up" our muscles. But did you know that beef is great for the brain, too? It's true! Beef is a rich source of acetyl-l-carnitine, an amino acid that helps make acetylcholine, the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain. Acetylcholine plays a huge role in learning, memory, and attention. Studies indicate acetyl-l-carnitine supplementation may slow the cognitive decline in dementia.4
When eating food to boost memory and focus, be sure to select lean cuts of beef if possible or enjoy it in moderation. The saturated fats in beef can increase the risk of heart disease if eaten in excess.
Eggs To Boost Brain Power
Eggs are a true brain food thanks to their high choline content. Choline is a nutrient that helps create citicoline. This is important for the brain because citicoline produces acetylcholine, a major neurotransmitter crucial for proper memory and focus.
Studies suggest that Cognizin®, a superior branded form of citicoline, has been observed to improve attention and concentration and increase motor speed. Research indicates it may also increase blood flow to the brain, and improve memory in elderly subjects.5, 6, 7
Fish To Improve Brain Function
Fish is often referred to as a “brain food” for good reason. Multiple clinical research studies suggest an association between increased fish intake and a slower rate of age-related cognitive decline. This is because fatty fish, such as salmon, is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Dietary fats have gotten a bad rap with doctors saying they're not healthy. But an omega-3 fatty acid is an unsaturated fat, one of the "good" fats your body needs for heart and joint health. The omega-3s in fish oil have also been linked to improved brain function.8, 9
If you don't enjoy a diet that includes fish, you can get your omega-3 fatty acids by purchasing fish oil capsules. Other non-fish sources of this type of oil include walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds.
Dark Chocolate To Improve Memory
Surprisingly, numerous studies indicate that dark chocolate may offer many health benefits, especially for the brain. Dark chocolate contains high levels of flavanols, a powerful antioxidant found in plants, which may be at least partly responsible for its brain-boosting benefits. Dark chocolate consumption has been observed to improve memory in study participants. (Flavanols have been found to increase blood flow to the brain.)10
There are many plant-based foods that contain flavanols, but dark chocolate has been found to have a high concentration of this antioxidant.
To reap these cognitive rewards, be sure the dark chocolate you eat or drink contains a minimum of 75% dark chocolate or cacao.
More Great Foods For The Brain
Other foods that may help sharpen the brain include:
- Berries are rich in brain protecting antioxidants
- Nuts and seeds contain vitamin E that my slow cognitive decline
- Pomegranate juice is another rich source of antioxidants that may protect the brain from free radical damage.
- Avocado contains high levels of monounsaturated fats that may contribute to healthy blood flow to the brain.
- Tea contains caffeine that may increase alertness and attention.
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1a - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is a Healthy Brain? New Research Explores Perceptions of Cognitive Health Among Diverse Older Adults. CDC. Accessed Mar 16, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/perceptions_of_cog_hlth_factsheet.pdf#:~:text=A%20healthy%20brain%20is%20one%20that%20can%20perform,can%20influence%20how%20we%20define%20a%20healthy%20brain.
1b- Alzheimer’s Association. Facts and Figures. Accessed Feb 23, 2021. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures
2a- Reinberg S. 1 in 9 U.S. Adults Over 45 Reports Memory Issues. WebMD. Jul 13, 2018. Accessed Mar 16, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20180713/1-in-9-us-adults-over-45-reports-memory-issues
2b- Harvard Women's Health Watch. Boost your memory by eating right. Harvard Health Publishing. Aug 2012. Accessed Mar 16, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/boost-your-memory-by-eating-right
2c- Reynolds EH. Folic acid, ageing, depression, and dementia. BMJ. 2002;324(7352):1512-1515. doi:10.1136/bmj.324.7352.1512
3a- Ma F, Wu T, Zhao J, et al. Folic acid supplementation improves cognitive function by reducing the levels of peripheral inflammatory cytokines in elderly Chinese subjects with MCI. Sci Rep. 2016;6:37486. Published 2016 Nov 23. doi:10.1038/srep37486
3b- Ferland G. Vitamin K, an emerging nutrient in brain function. Biofactors. 2012 Mar-Apr;38(2):151-7. doi: 10.1002/biof.1004. Epub 2012 Mar 15. PMID: 22419547.
4- Pennisi M, Lanza G, Cantone M, D'Amico E, Fisicaro F, Puglisi V, Vinciguerra L, Bella R, Vicari E, Malaguarnera G. Acetyl-L-Carnitine in Dementia and Other Cognitive Disorders: A Critical Update. Nutrients. 2020 May 12;12(5):1389. doi: 10.3390/nu12051389. PMID: 32408706; PMCID: PMC7284336.
5- McGlade E, Locatelli A, Hardy J, Kamiya T, Morita M, Morishita K, Sugimura Y, Yurgelun-Todd D. Improved Attentional Performance Following Citicoline
Administration in Healthy Adult Women. Food and Nutrition Sciences, 2012, 3, 769-773
doi:10.4236/fns.2012.36103 Published Online June 2012 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/fns)
6- McGlade E, Agoston AM, DiMuzio J, Kizaki M, Nakazaki E, Kamiya T, Yurgelun-Todd D. The Effect of Citicoline Supplementation on Motor Speed and Attention in Adolescent Males. J Atten Disord. 2019 Jan;23(2):121-134. doi: 10.1177/1087054715593633. Epub 2015 Jul 15. PMID: 26179181.
7- Alvarez XA. Laredo M. Corzo D. Fernandez-Novoa L. Mouzo R. Perea JE. Daniele D. Cacabelos R. Methods & Findings in Experimental & Clinical Pharmacology. 19(3):201-10,1997 Apr. https://cognizin.com/en/studies/citicoline-improves-memory-performance-in-elderly-subjects
8- Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, Bienias JL, Wilson RS. Fish consumption and cognitive decline with age in a large community study. Arch Neurol. 2005 Dec;62(12):1849-53. doi: 10.1001/archneur.62.12.noc50161. Epub 2005 Oct 10. PMID: 16216930.
9- Dangour AD, Whitehouse PJ, Rafferty K, Mitchell SA, Smith L, Hawkesworth S, Vellas B. B-vitamins and fatty acids in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and dementia: a systematic review. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;22(1):205-24. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2010-090940. PMID: 20847412.
10- Socci V, Tempesta D, Desideri G, De Gennaro L, Ferrara M. Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids. Front Nutr. 2017 May 16;4:19. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2017.00019. PMID: 28560212; PMCID: PMC5432604.