One of the keys to living a long and healthy life is keeping your brain in good shape. There are many different ways to do that from getting enough sleep and exercise to doing activities that keep your mind stimulated. But most importantly, choosing the right foods to eat makes a big difference. If you want to improve your brain health, experts say there are certain foods that you should be eating right now.
"You are what you eat is not just a saying, it’s a fact," Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed clinical psychologist and board certified neurotherapist, tells Bustle. "If you put too much [non-nourishing foods] in, you feel sluggish, your mood is thrown off, and your brain does not function at its best."
Numerous studies have found that lower levels of nutrients are linked to depression. People who suffer from depression tend to lack the right amount of essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.
A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health also found that people who went from eating zero portions of fruit and vegetables each day to eating up to eight portions saw an increase in levels of happiness and life satisfaction.
"Our brain health is clearly impacted by our diet," William W. Li, M.D., author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself, tells Bustle. "Eating diets full of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, seafood, legumes, and limited meat are optimal for brain health." So here are some foods that are guaranteed to boost your brain health, according to experts.
"A good well-balanced diet loaded with nutrients, vitamins and minerals allows our brain to thrive and function at its highest capacity," Janette Nesheiwat, M.D., board certified medical doctor, tells Bustle. "This begins the moment you wake up."
If you really want to stay on top of your brain health, don't skip breakfast. Starting off the day with a hearty breakfast can help with mood, memory, and concentration. If you start the day off right, you'll think more clearly, be more alert, and you'll have more energy throughout the day.
One thing you can try adding to your first meal of the day is blueberries. According to Dr. Jackson, blueberries are both low in natural sugar and are loaded with antioxidants. "From a brain standpoint, antioxidants help protect the brain from free radicals that we are exposed to everyday, like smoke and pollution," she says. "When free radicals are left unaddressed it can lead to a what is called oxidative stress which contributes to age-related degenerative diseases, including mental decline."
If you're not into eating blueberries with your yogurt or oatmeal, eating it with dark chocolate may be a better option for you. According to Dr. Li, both dark chocolate and blueberries contain anthocyanins and flavanols that have been proven to improve cognition in laboratory and clinical studies. "Cocoa and blueberries improve blood flow to the brain," he says. In fact, a study from the University of Reading showed, blueberries and cocoa consumption improved "executive function and episodic memory."
In order to improve your brain health, try increasing your intake of leafy greens. According to Dr. Jackson, they're rich in nutrients like vitamin K, folate, and beta carotene, which are linked to slower cognitive decline. Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and dandelion greens all have omega-3, vitamin E and flavonoids, which are good for your brain.
If you want something to snack on throughout the day, walnuts are a really good option. According to Dr. Jackson, walnuts have melatonin and are rich in magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. "Magnesium helps reduce stress hormones and inflammation," she says. "It's also one of the top recommended nuts for brain health because it helps improves cognitive functions."
Walnuts, along with other nuts and seeds, also contain "brain-boosting vitamin E." According to Dr. Jackson, it's an important vitamin because it's an antioxidant that also fights free radicals and may delay the progression of some levels of Alzheimer’s disease. While more research is still need on the link of vitamin E and Alzheimer’s, she says, vitamin E (and vitamins in general) are still really good for the brain.
"Omega‑3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in fish benefit the heart and brain by reducing the damage caused by vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis," Dr. Li says. Overall, eating fish containing healthy oils can improve brain function. Some of the highest levels of marine omega‑3 PUFAs are found in fish such as hake, tuna, and amberjack (yellowtail). It can also be found in shellfish like Manila clams and cockles.
Bone broth is rich in immune-boosting minerals and essential fatty acids which improves overall brain function. As Colette Heimowitz, VP of nutrition communication and education at Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., tells Bustle, it contains collagen, which helps reduce inflammation. Most importantly, bone broth also contains an amino acid called glycine, which helps to promote mental alertness, improves memory, and can even reduce stress.
"The B vitamins have several roles in brain health, like slowing the progression of mental decline in the elderly and helping regulate mood and memory," Ashley Wood, RN, BSN with Demystifying Your Health, LLC, tells Bustle. For instance, if you're deficient in folate and vitamin B12, you're more likely to have depression. According to Wood, vitamin B12 is also involved in synthesizing brain chemicals and regulating glucose levels in the brain. This is really important because glucose is the main source of energy for your body and brain. You can get B vitamins by eating eggs, turkey, tuna, beans, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, and chili peppers.
It's important to be mindful about what you're eating and how it's affecting your body. A lot of what you eat does affect your brain. The good news is, "It’s never too late to eat to support brain health," Dr. Li says. These are some foods that can help to improve your brain health right now.