Taking care of your brain health is more important than ever. There are more than 9.9 million new cases of dementia each year worldwide, and this figure is projected to increase to 131.5 million by 2050.1,2 Older adults are not the only ones at risk for cognitive disorders. More than one-third of graduate students report suffering from depression, and this trend is showing no signs of slowing down.3,4 Fortunately, good choices about what you eat can make a big difference.
Brain Health & Depression
How does depression link to cognitive decline? Cognitive dysfunction affects attention, verbal and nonverbal learning, short-term and working memory, visual and auditory processing, problem-solving, processing speed, and motor functioning.5 So, unfortunately, depression has a major impact on cognitive function and future cognitive impairment. With depression on the rise and an increase in cases of dementia, it is clear that our brains are not getting healthier, and our memory is faltering earlier in life.6
Fortunately, a decline in brain health and an increase in memory loss does not have to be a part of aging or any stage of life! You can significantly reduce your risk of brain-related illnesses by making changes to your diet and lifestyle. Certain foods can help boost cognition, mood, concentration levels, and fact recall. In this article, you will learn about 9 foods filled with nutrients that improve brain health and aid in the preservation of cognitive function.
Foods In A Brain Health Diet
Protecting your brain health is more important now than it has ever been. With the right foods, you can combat cognitive decline, help prevent memory problems and depression, and keep your mind sharp long into your golden years.
1. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains around 66% medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which travel directly to your liver, where your body naturally converts them into ketones. Your brain primarily uses glucose as fuel, however, it can also run on ketones. These substances are produced by your body when fat is converted into energy and have been shown to prevent brain cell death.7 Once your liver converts the fat from coconut oil into ketones, the ketones cross the blood-brain barrier and are used as a source of energy by the brain.8
Studies show that coconut oil potentially supports the prevention and treatment of brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Although more research needs to be done on the use of coconut oil in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, it is another indication that coconut oil’s benefits go beyond maintaining a healthy weight.9 It’s also super easy to include in your diet by cooking meals using coconut oil or eating snacks such as my Coconut Joy Fiber Bars.
Blueberries are rich in a number of brain-boosting antioxidants such as gallic acid and polyphenols. Gallic acid protects our brains from degeneration and stress. Polyphenols, which you may have heard of, help to combat cognitive decline in the form of an antioxidant known as flavonoids.10
Flavonoids can cross the blood-brain barrier into areas of learning and memory. Additionally, flavonoids have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help combat oxidative stress and inflammation. Both are thought to be important contributors to cognitive impairment.
Blueberries, or the flavonoids in blueberries, are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in older adults, as well as improved neurocognitive function, lower symptoms of depression, and better glucose control.11,12 Another study suggests that school-aged children’s memory skills can also get better when they are given flavonoid-rich drinks with concentrations of blueberry powder.13
Berries are one of my favorite foods not only because of their inflammation-fighting powers but also because they are low in sugar, making them a great option for diabetics and those dealing with Candida or SIBO. I keep a bag of organic berries in my freezer at all times for my smoothies. Fresh berries are also a great snack all on their own!
Turmeric is a yellow spice used in traditional Indian dishes and is often found in mixed curry powders. It benefits your body’s inflammatory response due to the antioxidant compound curcumin.
Curcumin is a neuroprotective agent capable of crossing your blood-brain barrier, as well as inhibiting and breaking up the destructive beta amyloids that can accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.14 It can also boost memory and stimulate new cell growth in the brain.15
Celery contains a plant compound called luteolin. It is from a family of plant molecules that you may now be familiar with — flavanoids! Luteolin inhibits the release of inflammatory molecules in the brain. One study found that luteolin reduced inflammation triggered by a certain kind of bacteria that damages cells, while another study showed the anti-inflammatory effects of luteolin in the brain from drinking water infused with the flavonoid.16 Specifically, it impacted the part of the brain responsible for memory and cognitive ability, the hippocampus. Although studies continue to be done on the benefits of luteolin on brain health, there’s no harm in adding the nutritious vegetable to your diet for its many other benefits (it also contains prebiotic fiber)!
Making plain celery juice is pretty easy, but you can also add it to smoothies or other juices. I also like to enjoy celery sticks with homemade dips or a spoonful of tigernut butter. Celery leaves are great, too and can be added to smoothies or used as a garnish.
Both broccoli and cauliflower are good sources of choline, a B-vitamin known for its ability to support brain development. In the brain, choline speeds up the creation and release of acetylcholine, a protein that carries signals among brain cells and is important for memory and assorted other brain functions.17 Broccoli also contains high levels of flavonoids and other phytonutrients, which support your body’s detoxification pathways, and — you guessed it — your inflammatory response.
Studies on choline indicate its ability to improve learning and memory, boost cognitive function, and prevent age-related memory decline by supporting cells in an area of the brain called the hippocampus.18
6. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Real extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is true brain food. It’s one of the reasons why a Mediterranean diet is recommended for optimum brain health (and many other aspects of overall health). The oil contains tons of polyphenols and antioxidants such as vitamin E, which support memory and learning ability. EVOO’s polyphenols also help combat amyloid-beta plaque and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, which contribute to the degrading of nerve cells in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.19
Unfortunately, many olive oil products on the shelf are not 100% olive oil. They are cut with lesser quality oils such as canola and colza oils, so be sure to buy from trustworthy sources, and look for a Non-GMO Project and/or Certified Organic label.
The best way to add more olive oil into your daily routine is to use it to make a salad dressing or drizzle it into warm soups. That way, you can preserve the heat-sensitive antioxidants.
7. Leafy Greens
New research is telling us that daily servings of greens such as kale, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce can help keep dementia at bay. The study revealed that when adults eat just one serving of leafy green vegetables once or twice per day, they experience slower mental deterioration, even when they have a family history of dementia.20 Additionally, In 2017 the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Conference released a report that links a diet emphasizing leaky green vegetables to the possibility of less future cognitive impairment by 35%.21
Leafy green vegetables are packed with folate, and oftentimes an insufficiency of folate is associated with cognitive decline. Folate helps prevent the beta-amyloid plaque that we know form as Alzheimer’s progresses. Additionally, folate lowers the high homocysteine levels that often accompany brain aging and dementia.22
Unfortunately, we are consuming less folate than we might think because cooking vegetables leads to a loss in this important b-vitamin (and sometimes cooking vegetables makes them easier to digest). So even though cooking vegetables provide benefits in other areas of the body, if you’re hoping to increase your folate intake without using a supplement, try incorporating more raw, leafy greens in your diet.
8. Fatty Fish
The human brain is 60% fat, and around 50% of that fat is composed of the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is negatively linked to dementia. Certain cold-water oily fish, including salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, and tuna, are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA. Four 4-oz servings of fatty fish per week should provide optimal levels of fish oil for your body and brain, yet even replacing one protein a week with Omega-3-rich fatty fish improves thinking skills.23
9. Grass-Fed Meat
As you may know, I was a vegetarian for over twenty years. However, after I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, I radically changed my diet because I realized that I was missing out on some key nutrients — particularly B12 — that can only be found in animal products.
That’s why if you are interested in optimizing your brain health, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a quality source of animal protein in your diet. People with B12 deficiency are more likely to score lower on cognitive tests and have a smaller brain volume than those with optimal B12 levels.24
Red meat such as grass-fed beef is an excellent source of this important vitamin, so be sure to add at least three servings per week to your brain-boosting diet. The Myers Way® emphasizes a range of high-quality grass-fed and pasture-raised meats to help you maintain optimal levels of B12 and other brain-supportive nutrients.
An Easy Brain Health Supplement
My favorite way to include more brain-healthy foods in my diet is quick and easy! I keep Coconut Joy Fiber Bars in my purse for those times when I’ve been working all day and feeling mentally exhausted. The brain health benefits are many: they’re the perfect pick-me-up that’s low in sugar, high in fiber, and full of the medium-chain triglycerides found in coconut oil to boost my cognitive ability.
For More Information On Brain Health
Watch this excerpt from my interview with Dr. David Haase, a good friend and Founder/CEO of MaxWell Clinic in Nashville, Tennessee, where we talk about the brain’s inflammatory burden and more.