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6 best foods for brain health, memory: Fish, berries, greens & more

Foods such as berries, greens and nuts can improve brain health and memory. (Photos via Getty Images)
Foods such as berries, greens and nuts can improve brain health and memory. (Photos via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

"You are what you eat" isn't just an old adage — it's the truth when it comes to your brain.

Foods that raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, such as saturated and trans fats, not only clog your arteries and affect your heart, but are also bad for your brain.

Over time, a diet heavy in LDL can negatively affect your brain health and memory due to a buildup of beta-amyloid plaques in your brain.

However, if you maintain a diet that focuses on poly and monounsaturated fats, you'll be doing yourself a favour in the short and long term.

Read on to learn some of the best foods that science says will boost your memory and brain health over time.

Raw piece of salmon with cilantro garnish on a white background.
Fatty fish, like salmon, helps develop brain cells. (Photo via Getty Images) (Marcelo De La Torre / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Fatty fish

Fatty fish almost always tops the list for brain-healthy foods. Why? Fatty fish are treasure troves of omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that have been linked to lower levels of beta-amyloid plaques that form damaging clumps in the brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids also play a vital role in your nervous system, accounting for half the fat that makes up your brain. These fats help develop brain cells, making them a vital part of learning and memory.

Here are some excellent fatty fish options that are rich in omega-3s:

  • Salmon

  • Canned light tuna

  • Atlantic mackerel

  • Herring

  • Sardines

  • Cod

  • Trout

  • Pollock

Oat flakes, seeds and bran in wooden spoons on a wooden table.
Whole grains are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects your brain cells from oxidative stress. (Photo via Getty Images) (egal via Getty Images)

Whole grains

Whole grains are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects your cells from oxidative stress to which the brain is highly susceptible. Oxidative stress contributes to memory degeneration later in life, but high levels of vitamin E have been associated with better brain performance.

You can incorporate whole grains into your diet by replacing refined carbohydrates like breakfast cereals, white rice and white bread with whole grains such as:

  • Oatmeal

  • Brown rice

  • Whole-grain pasta

  • Quinoa

  • Whole-grain bread

  • Buckwheat

Assortment of leafy greens including kale, spinach, and rainbow chard
Vitamin K, found in leafy green vegetables, slows the effects of cognitive decline and are excellent for brain health. (Photo via Getty Images) (Jess Lessard Photography via Getty Images)

Leafy vegetables

Vitamin K, beta carotene, lutein and folate are beneficial nutrients found in leafy green vegetables. Research shows that these nutrients help slow the effects of cognitive decline and are excellent for brain health.

In fact, just a 160-gram serving of broccoli will deliver more than 100 per cent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin K — which has been linked to better memory when consumed in high doses.

Other leafy vegetables that are great for brain health and memory include:

  • Kale

  • Spinach

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Collards

  • Cabbage

walnuts, almonds, cashews and hazelnuts close-up
Nuts are rich in nutrients that aid memory and benefit your brain. (Photo via Getty Images) (R.Tsubin via Getty Images)

Nuts

Nuts are excellent sources of protein, but they're also rich in other nutrients that aid memory and benefit your brain health.

Nutrients like vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and whole grains are also present in many kinds of nuts.

A diet rich in nuts has been linked to better brain function later in life and contributes to a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.

You can mix nuts with your morning oatmeal, combine them with fruit and seeds in trail mix, or eat them on their own. Some great nuts for brain health include:

  • Walnuts

  • Almonds

  • Hazelnuts

  • Peanuts

  • Pecans

  • Cashews

Cup of black coffee overhead view, on top of a pile of raw coffee beans
Coffee can protect your brain against Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. (Photo via Getty Imsges) (artplus via Getty Images)

Coffee

Coffee isn't just good for your morning or midday boost of energy at work — research also suggests that it protects your brain against Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Dr. Donald Weaver, co-director of the Krembil Brain Institute, published a study in Frontiers in Neuroscience that found a correlation between certain roasting processes and a decreased risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Additionally, reasonable coffee consumption has been linked to several other health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, protection against certain cancers and reduced blood pressure.

Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in a white bowl
Berries increase brain elasticity and reduce inflammation. (Photo via Getty Images) (Glasshouse Images via Getty Images)

Berries

Not only do the powerful antioxidants found in dark-skinned berries help fight against age-related neurodegenerative diseases, but they've also been shown to improve brain health by:

  • Increasing brain elasticity, which boosts memory and helps the brain develop new connections

  • Improving communication between brain cells

  • Reducing inflammation

The antioxidants present in brain-healthy foods like berries and whole grains protect your brain against oxidative stress that leads to brain degeneration. These antioxidants are found in the form of flavonoids in berries like:

  • Blueberries

  • Blackberries

  • Strawberries

  • Mulberries

  • Black currants

The bottom line

While moderately indulging in saturated fats won't immediately ruin your brain health, your lifelong dietary habits will influence the quality of your memory and overall brain health.

Eating healthy, brain-friendly food benefits your overall well-being.

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