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12 Healthy Foods For Good Brain Health

Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Published in Nutrition

7 min read

April 21, 2022
green fruits and veggies
green fruits and veggies

Did you know that the foods you eat directly impact your brain health? You know that healthy eating is important for a variety of reasons. A good diet can help with cholesterol, prevent heart disease and regulate blood glucose levels. It can also help your mental health.

As recent research shows, what you eat can help improve cognitive function and protect your brain from the cognitive decline that usually accompanies aging.

Brain health and your diet are intricately intertwined, and the nutritional choices you make also impact overall wellbeing. And, since the right foods can keep your brain cells healthy by preventing memory loss, improving cognitive function, and more, it’s good to focus on what you’re feeding your brain. 

A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Brain

a blender with greens

Your brain is one of your most important organs, and just like the rest of your body, it needs nutrients to function optimally. By eating the right foods, you can improve your cognitive function and protect your brain against degenerative diseases.

Many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K, selenium, and polyphenols like anthocyanins, are vital for good brain health. So it’s essential to make sure you’re getting enough of these in your diet.

Simply put, the best diet for a healthy brain includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids. 

What the Research Says

Are you really what you eat? Research suggests that what we eat does indeed play a role when it comes to brain health. Numerous studies have shown a strong connection between our food and cognitive function. Here's a look at some of the latest research on the subject.

A recent article released by CNBC examined a Harvard professor and researcher’s work on the effects of different foods on your brain. Dr. Uma Naidoo is a nutritionist that works toward helping people optimize their diet for brain health.

Over many years, Naidoo found six optimal foods for a healthy brain: herbs and spices, fermented foods, dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, and leafy greens. Let’s take a look at each one, some of which also made it to our list of Nutrisense favorites below!

  1. Herbs and Spices: Many herbs and spices can protect the brain from damage, improve cognitive function, and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
  2. Fermented Foods: Some studies suggest that fermented foods, a good source of probiotics, can help protect the brain from damage. improve cognitive function, and reduce inflammation
  3. Dark Chocolate: Studies have shown that eating dark chocolate can help to boost your cognitive function and memory
  4. Avocados: A new study has shown that eating avocados can help keep our brains healthy and prevent age-related cognitive decline. 
  5. Nuts: Research shows that a diet high in nuts can protect against cognitive decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Nuts are also a great source of antioxidants, which help to protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals. 
  6. Leafy Greens: Leafy green vegetables are a great source of antioxidants, contain vitamin E, which protects the brain from damage, and also have folate and magnesium, critical for healthy brain function.

Blood Glucose and Brain Health

It's no secret that keeping track of your blood glucose levels is vital for overall health, and it's also critical for maintaining brain health. In fact, studies have shown that people with high blood sugar levels are at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Maintaining a healthy blood sugar level is essential for preserving cognitive function. By understanding how blood glucose impacts the brain, we can take steps to protect our cognitive function as we age.

Our Favorite Brain Foods

Are you looking for the best brain foods to add to your diet? Here are 12 of our favorite foods that also happen to be really good for your brain.

1) Sardines

a bowl of sardines

As fatty fish go, sardines are one of the best. They contain nutrients vital for optimal brain function. Research has shown that eating sardines can improve memory, increase cognitive performance, and protect against age-related mental decline.

Sardines are also packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids help protect the brain from age-related damage and improve cognitive function. This type of fish is also low in mercury, making them a safe seafood choice for pregnant women and young children. 

2) Brown Rice

two bowls of rice

Did you know that whole grains like brown rice are good for improving your brain health? They are rich in vitamins like vitamin E, which are good for combating free radicals that can lead to cognitive decline.

Brown rice is a complex carbohydrate, which means it breaks down more slowly in the body, providing sustained energy and may mitigate blood sugar spikes. The fiber in brown rice also helps keep your digestive system functioning correctly, while the nutrients help to support cognitive function.

3) Blueberries

a cup of blueberries

As you age, your brain naturally shrinks, leading to cognitive problems like memory loss. But scientists are now learning that consuming certain foods can help preserve brain health and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

One such food is blueberries, packed with antioxidants and nutrients that may help protect your brain from damage, and polyphenols, which prevent oxidative stress.

Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, which can help keep your brain functioning optimally.

4) Broccoli

chopped broccoli

Broccoli is high in fiber and nutrients essential for optimal brain health. A rich source of vitamin K, B6, antioxidants, and isothiocyanate, broccoli may help reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline. 

Some studies even show that the nutrients found in broccoli can help improve cognitive function and protect your brain. So next time you are looking for a healthy snack or side dish to your main meal, reach for some. broccoli! Your brain will thank you. 

5) Coffee

a cup of coffee

Do you love coffee? If you're like most people, the answer is likely yes. What you may not know, however, is that your morning cup of joe can also help keep your brain healthy. Recent studies have shown a correlation between coffee consumption and a decreased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Coffee is also a great source of antioxidants, which help to keep the brain healthy. The next time you want a brain boost, reach for your favorite mug of coffee instead of an energy drink.

6) Spinach


Leafy greens are good for your brain, and spinach is at the top of our list! Like most of the other options on this list, leafy greens are high in antioxidants like vitamin E, which can help protect your brain from age-related damage. If you’re wondering what leafy green to start with, try some spinach! It has all the nutrient benefits you need to help improve cognitive function and memory.

7) Dark Chocolate

dark chocolate

One of Naidoo’s must-haves for brain health is dark chocolate—and we love it too! As mentioned above, the antioxidants like flavonols and polyphenols in dark chocolate help protect the brain from damage and improve blood flow to the brain. 

Flavonoids have also been shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar levels, and reduce inflammation. 

8) Nuts and Seeds

mixed nuts and seeds

Another from Naidoo’s list that we’re recommending is nuts and seeds. As research on the benefits of nuts continues to emerge, it's becoming more and more evident that eating them may do wonders for our brains.

Studies have shown that consuming nuts can improve cognitive function and memory, reduce inflammation, and protect against age-related neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.

Adding a handful of almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios, or any other kind of nuts to your diet daily can help improve your brain health. They can be eaten alone, in salads, oatmeal, and yogurt… you can add a delightful crunch to just about any dish with a handful of nuts.

9) Kimchi

a cup of kimchi

Did you know that kimchi, a traditional Korean dish, is delicious and good for your brain? Studies have shown that kimchi can help improve cognitive function and memory. This crunchy, spicy, fermented cabbage dish has many vital nutrients and antioxidants.

Researchers have found that a compound in kimchi, known as capsaicin, can help to improve cognitive function and protect the brain from damage. 

10) Eggs

a fried egg

Eggs are a high-quality source of protein that provide many health benefits, including brain health. Protein is vital for the development and function of neurons, which are essential for cognitive function.

They are rich in vitamins B-6, B-12, and folic acid, which are linked to brain health. Eggs also contain choline, an essential nutrient that supports cognitive health and reduces the risk of memory loss. 

11) Avocados

a sliced avocado

Avocados are known for being a nutritious and delicious addition to any meal. Research shows that eating avocados can help improve cognitive function and protect the brain from degenerative diseases by reducing the risk of high blood pressure.

12) Turmeric

a plate with turmeric and other spices

Turmeric is a great spice to add to your dishes. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain and protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

This vibrant yellow spice has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat various conditions. 

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Natalie Carroll, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC

Reviewed by: Natalie Carroll, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC

Natalie received her degree in Dietetics from Mansfield University and a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition from the University at Buffalo. Her career has included nutrition education and program development in her local community, adjunct faculty at several collegiate institutions, and clinical nutrition in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

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