The 8 best foods for better brain power

Chocolate, coffee and blueberries can help keep our brains sharp and preserve our memory.

There seem to be countless ways to help keep our brains sharp as we age, for instance with puzzles, new experiences, exercise and even sex.

But did you know that what you eat can also make a big difference to the health of your brain? Whether it’s adding blueberries to your yoghurt, steaming some salmon for dinner or nibbling on dark chocolate, what you eat can actually improve your memory and other brain functions.

We’ve spoken to a neuroscientist and a nutritionist to find out why some foods can make such a difference and the best ones to choose.

A chalk drawing of a brain on a background with some of the healthy brainfoods on it including salmon, vegetables and nutsCredit: Shutterstock /Elena Eryomenko

What we eat can boost our brain

We need to fuel our brains

Dr Rachel Taylor is a neuroscientist who says the best way to help our brain is by keeping it working, with challenges such as neurobics and also eating brain-boosting foods.

She says: “The brain needs good sources of energy, in particular those which can keep the neurons functioning and firing to their full potential. Food is essential in this equation and eating good, whole, nutritious food has a huge impact on our cognitive functioning.

“Being mindful of what we are eating and when can be one of the best preventative measures we can take to avoid ill health and unwellness.”

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A healthy gut means a healthy brain

How does food make a difference

Registered Nutritional Therapist Anna Mapson adds that a healthy gut is vital to a healthy brain.

“Supporting your gut is important for brain health because the cross talk along the gut-brain axis,” she explained. “Messages are passed between your digestive tract and brain every second, it’s a superhighway of information.

Gut microbes can relay messages to the brain through the vagus nerve, and the immune system is also monitoring pathogens in the gut. Maintaining a healthy gut is important to support the brain. Eating a varied diet, with around 25-30g fibre per day is one way to do this.”

The eight best foods for brain health

What to eat to help boost your brain and improve your memory

Dr Taylor says that our food choices play a vital role and explains why these eight foods should be included in your diet.

1. Omega 3 oils

These are commonly found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds. Omega 3 is essential in supporting the forming and development of healthy neurons.

Studies have shown that they help to improve memory function, decision making and emotional regulation. Eating baked or steamed fish has been shown to improve the amount of grey matter in our brains.

2. Coffee

Studies have shown that drinking a cup of coffee over a long term leads to a reduced risk of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Caffeine is said to improve concentration and also blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine that makes you sleepy. It is also implicated in in boosting neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

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3. Turmeric

This super spice is an amazing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that has been shown to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier.

It eases depression by boosting dopamine and serotonin, helps new neurons grow and helps to detox pathways of amyloid plaques that are a symptom of Alzheimer’s.

4. Blueberries

These little bundles of antioxidant joy are amazingly good for the brain. In studies some of these antioxidants have been shown to accumulate in the brain, helping improve the communication between the neurons. They improve memory and have been shown in animal studies to improve concentration.

5. Pumpkin seeds

These beauties are full of zinc, magnesium, copper and iron, all elements that are essential for brain health and function. Zinc is necessary for nerve signalling, magnesium for learning and memory, copper controls nerve signals and iron is needed to stave off brain fog and impaired cognitive function.

6. Dark chocolate (over 70% cocoa)

My favourite super food, studies have shown that it improves mood, concentration, and age-related decline. It is all about quality though and not quantity, just a couple of squares does the job!

7. Egg yolks

Yolks contain choline which is good for our memory and cognitive ability by boosting the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Eggs also provide a good source of protein which helps to stabilise blood sugars, as well as iron and B vitamins for energy levels.

8. Wholegrains

Wholegrains are great for providing B vitamins for energy, as well as slow release glucose for the brain. Eating a portion of bread, pasta, brown rice or oats can help provide the brain with energy.

How to beat inflammation

Choose dark-coloured fruit and veg

Mapson says that choosing dark-coloured fruit and vegetables can make a big difference to the health of our brains, something which has been shown by a number of studies.

“Many of the key nutrients we need for a healthy brain come from dark coloured vegetables and fruits containing high levels of polyphenols,” she says.

“Foods such as beetroot, spinach, cherries, butternut squash are all good for your brain because they are packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants help to fight low level chronic inflammation which is linked to aging and conditions like depression or dementia.”

Manage your blood sugars

Blood sugar levels affect your brain

The brain is the most energy-demanding organ in our body, using half of all sugar energcy. Brain functions, such as thinking, memory, and learning are closely linked to glucose levels.

Mapson says: “Managing your blood sugars can also help support a healthy brain. Eating protein at every meal, and including complex carbohydrates such as wholegrains, beans and pulses and starchy vegetables can help keep blood glucose levels stable.

“When you don’t eat enough energy, you can become foggy headed, anxious and irritable as the brain starts to crave glucose.”

Don't forget to drink

Water helps our brains function in every day life. Staying hydrated has been linked to better concentration, improved focus, stronger cognitive functioning and enhanced short-term memory. The downside is that when you are dehydrated you could struggle with poor attention, memory loss and headaches.

So how much water do you need to drink? We’ve got a practical guide on how much you need and easy ways to increase your intake.

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Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Published:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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