A highly functioning brain relies not only on activities such as mental challenges and exercise, but also on your diet. Certain nutrients are necessary for optimum brain health and good cognitive function, and you can get them from a variety of delicious foods. Foods that are good for your brain include fatty fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, provide omega-3 fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. These fatty acids may improve cognitive performance, slow age-related cognitive decline and help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Fish also contain vitamin B-12, which is necessary for proper nerve function and preventing depression, and choline, which is essential for neurotransmitter synthesis. As alternatives to plain broiled or grilled fish, you can make delicious preparations with additional nutrients that are necessary for brain health. Fish curry, for example, contains turmeric, a source of a brain-healthy antioxidant called curcumin.
Low vitamin E intake can increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and the Linus Pauling Institute notes that nuts and peanuts are good sources. Almonds have the most vitamin E per ounce, with 7.4 milligrams or 50 percent of the daily value, and pine nuts and peanuts are also top sources. You can support brain health by eating nuts and peanuts for snacks and as nut or peanut butters. They also provide vitamin B-6, which is necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis.
Fruits and Vegetables
Vitamin C in many kinds of fruits and vegetables can help protect your brain cells from oxidative damage, explains the Linus Pauling Institute. Eating more fruits and vegetables may lower your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Some fruits and vegetables also have vitamin B-6, vitamin E and folate. Raw fruits and vegetables are refreshing snacks, and eating vegetables as side dishes can add bulk to your meals without a lot of calories. Many fruits are sweet options for low-calorie desserts.
Combining nutritious foods can make them taste better and provide more brain nutrients. Grilled skewers with marinated salmon, pineapples, onions and red peppers brushed with canola oil, for example, provide omega-3 fats, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin B-12. Trail mix with nuts, peanuts, raisins and other dried fruit is a popular and convenient snack with vitamin E and iron, which can support brain health. A spinach salad with blueberries and grape tomatoes is another idea for brain-healthy foods.
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Cognition
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Vitamin B-6
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Fruits and Vegetables
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Vitamin B-12
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Vitamin E
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Curcumin
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Choline
- USDA: National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25: Vitamin E
Natalie Stein specializes in weight loss and sports nutrition. She is based in Los Angeles and is an assistant professor with the Program for Public Health at Michigan State University. Stein holds a master of science degree in nutrition and a master of public health degree from Michigan State University.