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14 Brain-Healthy Foods That Will Help Protect Your Memory and Cognition

Following the MIND diet closely may significantly lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

best foods to boost your brain and memory
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What you choose to fuel your body with affects more than the number on the scale and how your jeans fit. Everything from your bone density to your memory can be supported by what you put on your plate. Specifically when it comes to brain health, the foods you eat have a major impact, says Dale E. Bredesen, M.D., a neurologist and author of The End of Alzheimer’s Program.

Two diets in particular are backed by science for boosting brain health and reducing your risk of dementia: the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet. The Mediterranean Diet focuses on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, seafood, olive oil, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and whole grains, while limiting red meats, processed foods, refined grains and oils, and high-sugar foods. Poultry, eggs, dairy, and red wine can be enjoyed in moderation. Research has found the diet has a slew of health benefits, like improving heart health, aiding in weight management, and supporting brain function.

In comparison, the DASH diet (which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is similar to the Mediterranean diet, but includes slightly different serving suggestions, like capping sodium intake at 1,500 milligrams and allowing for more lean meats. The DASH diet boasts the same benefits as the Mediterranean diet, and was specifically developed to help lower blood pressure without medication.

But one diet has combined the best parts of each, particularly when it comes brain health: the MIND Diet, which is short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. One 2015 study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that the MIND diet can turn back the time on your cognitive age by seven and a half years. The study followed 900 men and women ages 58 to 98 for an average of four and a half years, assessing their diets with detailed food questionnaires and testing their cognitive function annually. Researchers found when participants followed the MIND diet very closely, while limiting less-nutritious foods like red meat, processed sweets, and fried foods, they reduced Alzheimer’s and dementia risk by 53%, and by 35% in those who followed the diet reasonably well.

To keep your brain in tip-top shape, Dr. Bredesen recommends limiting your intake of processed foods, red meat, and added sugar while loading up on the nutrient-rich, MIND diet-approved foods below.

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1 Green leafy vegetables
kale, roasted yams and avocado salad
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Dr. Bredesen recommends reaching for foods high in folate, such as leafy greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, because they help reduce homocysteine levels, an amino acid that has been linked to brain atrophy and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

One serving: 1 cup cooked or 2 cups raw

Aim for: 6 servings per week

Try it: Parmesan Kale Salad

2 Coffee or Tea
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“Coffee and green tea both contain caffeine, which has been shown to improve cognitive function by helping to solidify memories,” says Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Tea and coffee can also help with short-term memory boosts.” Just avoid adding lots of sugar to your brew.

One serving: 8-ounce cup of coffee

Aim for: Current U.S. Dietary Guidelines state that up 400 mg of caffeine per day is safe, the amount you’d find in about two grande Americanos at Starbucks.

Try it: Lightened-Up Mocha Latte

3 Poultry
grilled chicken fillets in a spicy marinade
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Poultry, like chicken or turkey, pack in lean protein, choline, and iron, all of which support cognitive function, research shows. The American Hearst Association suggests opting for lean meat low in saturated fats, like poultry, over red or processed meats to keep your cholesterol at a heart-healthy level.

One serving: 3 ounces

Aim for: 2 servings per week

Try it: Spice-Roasted Chicken With Caramelized Carrots and Shallots

4 Citrus
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“Citrus and citrus juice is full of flavanone (plant-based compounds with antioxidant properties), which research shows can improve blood flow to the brain, which in turn improves cognitive function,” says Avena. In fact, one study found that elderly people who eat citrus almost every day are 23% less likely to develop dementia.

One serving: 1 cup

Aim for: At least one serving per day

Try it: Red Citrus Salad

5 Fatty fish
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Research shows omega-3 fatty acids may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. Fatty fish, like salmon or canned light tuna, are rich in two of the three types of omega-three fatty acids (DHA and EPA). You can get the third type (ALA) from flaxseeds and other plant-based foods, says Avena.

One serving: 3 to 4 ounces

Aim for: At least 2 per week

Try it: Seared Salmon with Spiced Sweet Potatoes

6 Whole grains
oatmeal porridge with raspberries and banana
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Dr. Bredesen suggests trying to avoid simple carbs, like white rice or pasta. When eaten in excess, they can increase your risk of metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that can lead to chronic health problems like heart disease and diabetes. This, in turn, ups your risk of cognitive issues and brain abnormalities, research shows. Instead, turn to whole grains, which are packed with filling, disease-fighting fiber.

One serving: ½ cup cooked whole grain, 100% whole grain pasta, or 100% whole grain hot cereal; 1 slice 100% whole grain bread; 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal

Aim for: At least 3 servings per day

Try it: Wild Rice-Stuffed Acorn Squash

7 Eggs
fried eggs
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“Eggs are high in choline, an essential nutrient that has been shown to reduce inflammation and bolster brain function by enabling optimum communication between brain cells,” says Avena. Just be sure to eat the yolks!

One serving: 1 large egg

Aim for: 1 egg per day

Try it: Chopped Egg Salad Toast

8 Beans
stewed cranberry beans
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Beans are packed with fiber, about 8 grams per 1/2 cup depending on the variety, making them a staple in the Mediterranean diet. One 2017 study suggests loading up on legumes “could improve insulin sensitivity, which could, in turn, influence cognitive function,” the authors write.

One serving: ½ cup cooked

Aim for: At least 3 servings per week

Try it: Kale Stem Greens and Beans

9 Nuts
bowl of walnuts
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Nuts are high in polyphenols, which have been shown to reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia. Walnuts are a particularly smart pick. “They contain ALA omega-3 fatty acids, which are especially good for brain function,” says Avena.

One serving: A small handful (1.5 ounces) of nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter

Aim for: 5 per week

Try it: Blueberry-and-Mixed Nut Parfait

10 Olive oil
olive oil
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Dr. Bredesen says a low-carb diet that’s high in good fats like polyunsaturates and monounsaturates, including the ketogenic diet, can help support brain health. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which can help protect the brain through their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

One serving: 1 tablespoon

Aim for: Use it in place of other oils and butter, and splurge on the extra-virgin variety.

Try it: Carrot-Top Pesto

11 Berries
fresh berries in a basket on rustic wooden background
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Research shows that the various plant compounds in berries—such as anthocyanins, caffeic acid, catechins, and quercetin—may help improve signaling pathways in the brain linked to inflammation, cell survival, neuronal communication, and neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to adapt to changes).

One serving: ½ cup berries

Aim for: At least 2 servings per week

Try it: Berry, Chia, and Mint Smoothie

12 Dark Chocolate
chocolate chunks
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“Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, flavonoids, and has a bit of caffeine as well,” says Avena. “Just like berries, the antioxidants in dark chocolate can fight inflammation and improve cell signaling in the brain.” Aim for chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa or higher.

One serving: 1 ounce

Servings to aim for: Enjoy as an occasional treat

Try it: The Absolute Best Dark Chocolate Bars

13 Raisins
closeup of raisins on wooden table
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“Raisins contain boron, which is essential for the proper functioning of the brain,” says Avena. “It helps to improve concentration, enhances hand and eye coordination, and sharpens memory.”

One serving: 1.5 ounces

Aim for: Enjoy in moderation

Try it: Cherry Chocolate Granola Bars

14 Red wine
red wine
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Red wine is essentially fermented fruit juices, meaning its packed with antioxidant-rich compounds, including favanols, resveratrol, catechins, and more. Research suggests these compounds can have anti-inflammatory benefits, but more studies are needed to truly understand wine’s potential for brain health. Wine in moderation is delicious, but it’s important to limit your intake—as too much alcohol is actually linked to an increased risk of dementia.

One serving: 5 ounces of wine

Limit to: Up to 1 drink per day for women, 2 for men

Try it: Red Wines Made in the U.S.

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