Food for Thought: What to Eat to Boost Your Brain

By Jessica Campbell, MS, FNTP

In today's fast-paced world where staying sharp and productive is crucial, we all could benefit from a little boost. Emerging scientific research reveals that what we eat plays a significant role in the well-being of our brains. Fortunately, there is a wide array of brain foods available to us, offering the potential to enhance cognition, reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, and foster a sharper, smarter, and happier mind. 

As June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, I want to use this space to remember a dear friend of mine who recently passed away after battling Alzheimer's. I wrote about it here: 5 Steps To Prevent Alzheimers

My friend's diagnosis was a reminder of the urgency to care for our brains at every age. Her journey inspires me to further explore ways to nourish and protect this precious organ.

Just as there is no magic pill to prevent cognitive decline, no single almighty brain food can ensure a sharp brain. This is why a balanced and nourishing diet with a combination of all these foods is important. With that in mind, I’ll list some of the top foods to eat – and tasty ways to eat to consume them – so you can keep your magnificent mind healthy and thriving. 
Foods to Embrace for a Brain Boost:

Oily Fish

Make friends with omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, sardines, and trout. These healthy fats are essential for brain function and can improve memory and cognition. 

Eating omega-3-rich fish on the regular has also been linked to a lower risk of brain lesions that can lead to dementia. It's not just about boosting your brainpower in the moment, but also protecting your brain in the long run. 

Now, here's something especially interesting for parents. If you want to help your kids stay focused and reduce ADHD symptoms, try adding sardines or trout to their meals. These fish are like little concentration boosters! 

These boquerones or Spanish anchovies from Ocean2Table are a brain-boosting superfood.

The advantages of Omega-3s don't stop there. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia. Who would've thought that a simple four-ounce serving of fish could offer so many advantages?

Experts recommend that you aim to eat fish at least two times a week. Keep in mind that not all fish are created equal. When it comes to choosing fish, go for fatty varieties first. Yes, that includes anchovies! Alaskan wild-caught salmon is some of the best oily fish you can eat. 

Be careful with farm-raised fish and larger wild-caught fish. They might have mercury and other toxins, so it's better to be cautious. If you want more details on which fish to limit, check out the FDA's advice or Seafood Watch about eating fish.

If fish isn't your thing, don't worry! You can still get your omega-3s from other sources. Think soybeans, walnuts, ground flaxseed, and other seeds. They're great alternatives for those who don't eat fish or prefer plant-based options.

If you do enjoy the flavors of fish, you’ll savor these:


Nature's brain-loving gems, berries are packed with antioxidants that protect brain cells from oxidative stress and help improve memory and cognitive function. Because of their high levels of gallic acid, blueberries are especially good at protecting our brains from degeneration, cognitive decline and stress.

During their peak season, you can enjoy the delightful taste of fresh berries. But don't fret if they're out of season, as you can conveniently find them in frozen or dried form. Sprinkle them on salads, add them to oatmeal, blend them into refreshing smoothies, or relish their natural goodness by enjoying them by the handful.

Berries are versatile and can be incorporated into various culinary creations including one of my favorite summer treats:

Leafy Greens 

Popeye knew what he was doing! Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that nourish the brain, reduce inflammation, and support cognitive function.

The consumption of greens, particularly cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, and Brussels sprouts, has been linked to significant benefits for brain health. A study conducted on 950 elderly individuals by researchers at Rush University discovered that those who consumed leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale once or twice a day experienced notably less cognitive decline compared to those who did not. In fact, the participants who incorporated greens into their diet managed to stall mental decline by an average of 11 years.

Enjoying greens is versatile, as they can be enjoyed raw in salads, steamed, baked, dehydrated into chips, used as a wrap, or broiled.

Some of my go-to recipes: 

Nuts and Seeds 

A handful of nuts and seeds can be a powerful brain-boosting snack. Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are packed with healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamins that support brain health and enhance cognitive performance. 

Their high levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals also improve mental alertness. The vitamin E found in these nuts may also help protect brain cells and ward off Alzheimer’s.  

When it comes to nuts for brains, walnuts are some of the best. Walnuts are rich in DHA, polyunsaturated omega-3 acids, polyphenols and vitamin E.

A 2013 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that as little as one ounce of nuts per day could mean the difference between living to 80 and living to 90.

If you like your nuts and seeds mixed up with other ingredients, check out this recipe: 


The creamy green goodness packed with healthy fats and vitamin E, avocados help nourish your brain and support cognitive function. 

Eating monounsaturated fats like those in avocados may reduce blood pressure, and high blood pressure is linked with cognitive decline.
Incorporating avocados into your diet is simple. You can enjoy them in a variety of ways, such as spreading avocado slices on toast, adding them to salads or sandwiches, or blending them into smoothies. Avocados also serve as a versatile ingredient in recipes, whether used as a base for dips like guacamole or as a creamy addition to salads and wraps.

Get a healthy dose of avocado (and a bonus of fish) here: 

Or, try adding avocados in any of these salads: 

Dark Chocolate 

Good news for chocolate lovers!  Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70% or more) is not only a delectable treat but also rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, and caffeine, all of which can enhance focus, mood, and cognitive function. Consuming dark chocolate in moderation has been associated with improved cognitive performance and increased blood flow to the brain.

The antioxidants and flavonoids present in dark chocolate have been linked to the potential to protect brain cells from oxidative stress and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline. 

To fully enjoy the cognitive benefits of dark chocolate, it is crucial to choose varieties with a high cocoa content and minimal added sugars. This ensures that you reap the maximum nutritional advantages while limiting the potential drawbacks of excess sugar consumption. Read more about that here: Are You Addicted to Chocolate or the Sugar? (

Remember, moderation is key when indulging in dark chocolate. A square or two of high-quality dark chocolate can be a gratifying way to satisfy your sweet tooth while also potentially supporting your cognitive health.
So, the next time you crave something sweet, get your chocolate fix with one of these yummy recipes: 

Tea and Coffee 

Coffee, beloved by many, offers not only a pick-me-up but also potential cognitive benefits. Caffeine is a key component in coffee, and it has been shown to increase the brain's processing capacity and improve focus. While the health effects of caffeine are debated, moderate coffee consumption has been linked to reduced risk of cognitive decline, stroke, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease. Please note that individual tolerance to caffeine varies, and it can affect sleep, so moderation is key. 

When it comes to maximizing the cognitive benefits of coffee, also consider how you drink it. Opting for black coffee allows you to experience the full potential of its properties without added sugars or unhealthy additives. Additionally, the quality of coffee beans matters too. Choosing high-quality, freshly roasted beans enhances the flavor and potential benefits of your coffee.

Tea, another popular choice, possesses its own brain-boosting properties. Green and white tea, in particular, contain high levels of beneficial antioxidants. Studies have even indicated that tea consumption may be associated with lower rates of Alzheimer's disease. While all varieties of tea have their merits, these two stand out for their cognitive benefits.

Tea enthusiasts often enjoy experimenting with different tea-making methods, and one popular choice during the summer is making Sun Tea. Here’s instructions: 

For those seeking the benefits of tea but preferring to avoid caffeine, herbal options provide a delightful solution. Herbal teas offer a wide range of flavors and potential health benefits without the stimulating effects of caffeine. They can be enjoyed throughout the day and are an excellent choice for relaxation and unwinding.

Here are some of my favorite medicinal teas: 

In addition to eating these brain-boosting foods, being mindful of limiting added sugars, trans fats, processed foods, alcohol, and highly processed meats can safeguard our cognitive well-being.

Let’s remember the importance of caring for our brains at every age and embrace the power of food as a tool to foster lifelong brain health.