As anyone who has ever arrived late to an important meeting can attest to; frantically looking for the house keys for 15 minutes prior to stepping out the door, all thanks to a memory lapse, can be quite frustrating!
And although a few slip-ups don’t necessarily mean you’ll soon be faced with full-fledged senility, you might be happy to know that there are ways to kiss forgetfulness goodbye. Or, at the very least, greatly diminish it.
Eager to learn how? Read on to get acquainted with 25 of the best brain foods as well as the many ways in which they can help improve your memory.
Memory depends on getting brain cells to make new connections, which happens best when they are highly excited.
This is also why events that happen when we are feeling intellectually or emotionally stimulated are the ones we tend to remember best.
One key player in keeping brain cells excited is the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, whose existence depends greatly on the amount of choline available in our bodies to produce it. In fact, lower levels of choline in the blood have been linked to lower brain function (including impaired memory).
When it comes to keeping blood choline levels up, eggs don’t have much competition! They are one of the greatest food sources of choline, closely followed by organ meat and soybean oil.
As a bonus, eggs are also a rich source of phosphatidylserine, a nutrient that is known to help the brain boost its cell-to-cell communication!
Did you know that our brain cells are made up, in big part, of fat molecules? This is why too low of a fat intake negatively affects the function of our central processor! But it’s not only a matter of quantity; it’s also a matter of quality.
Proving this is a study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital which, perhaps unsurprisingly, found that women who ate the most saturated fats (from foods such as red meats and butter) performed worse on test of thinking and memory than women who ate the lowest amount of these fats.
So what should you opt for instead?
Avocados, of course! Rich in monounsaturated fat, this fruit helps increase the level of good fat in the blood, contributing to a healthy flow of nutrients, such as fuel and oxygen, to the brain. This, in turn, can help maintain important aspects of brain function, including memory.
What’s more, good fats such as those found in avocados, also help prevent high blood pressure, which, when left uncontrolled, can lead to a decline in brain ability.
Keep in mind, though, that despite their health benefits, avocados remain fatty fruits – which means more is not necessarily better. So, for best effects, aim to limit your daily portion to 1/4 – 1/2 of an avocado per day.
While we’re on the topic of healthy fats… fatty fish are another top brain food we could all gain from adding to our diet.
This might be old news to you but it’s definitely worth repeating; fatty fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids (mainly DHA and EPA) which several studies have shown to help decrease rates of dementia and improve memory recall. Low DHA levels have even been liked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimers and memory loss.
So, exactly how much of these good fats should you aim for? Let me answer your question with an interesting fact!
Researchers at the Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago followed more than 6,000 people for four years to see how diet affected their memory and found that those consuming fish at least once per week had a 12% slower memory decline than those who snubbed the aquatic creature.
Main sources of fatty fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers.
Not a fan of fish? Opt for a daily omega-3 supplement containing 300-500mg DHA + EPA per day.
Blueberries and Grapes
Berries are antioxidant powerhouses, able to protect the brain from nasty oxidative damage, which, when not prevented, can lead to premature aging and memory-impairing dementia.
Flavonoids found in blueberries may also improve the communication between neurons, which, in turn can improve many aspects of brain function including learning, memory, reasoning and decision-making! Yep, stuff we can all benefit from! One study even found that those who drank blueberry juice every day for two months significantly improved their performance in learning and memory tests.
Red grapes, on the other hand, are loaded with resveratrol; another memory-boosting compound. I hear you – red wine is another way to stack up on resveratrol! Just aim not to exceed one glass per day for women or two glasses per day for men, as, above these levels, the beverage’s alcohol content may have opposite effects when it comes to short-term memory or decision-making skills…
Yes, you’ve read that right! No need to say goodbye to Tuesday night’s takeout favorite! Curcumin, a primary ingredient in turmeric and curry powders commonly found in Indian food may be able to slow the formation of plaque deposits in the brain. And that’s great news, as these plaques have been linked to the development of memory-impairing diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Now, who’s up for some Channa Masala?
Beets contain nitrates, a useful compound that has the handy ability to help dilate your blood vessels. This vascular dilation is exactly what makes beets so advantageous to the brain. The more dilated the blood vessels, the more oxygenized blood can reach the brain, and thus, the more improvements in mental performance!
An additional benefit ; more dilated blood vessels also results in lower blood pressure! So go ahead and add this lovely autumn veggie to soups, salads or main dishes, and enjoy!
Spinach, Kale & Collard Greens
Leafy greens are well-known to contain disease-fighting antioxidants, for example vitamin C, which was specifically shown to help reduce age-related memory loss. But a little less known fact is that they also contain a large amount of folate.
Studies show that foods rich in folate can help improve memory by decreasing inflammation and improving blood flow to the brain. Intake of folic acid (the supplement-version of naturally-occurring folate) was also shown to help decrease blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that’s linked to heart disease. But the positive effects don’t limit themselves to your heart! Interestingly, recent studies show a link between homocysteine levels and memory decline, with men eating the most folate-rich foods benefiting from less memory loss than their low-folate food counterparts.
Ladies, don’t worry, this same effect was also shown in women! In fact, a 25-year Harvard study of more than 13,000 women found that those who ate the highest amounts of veggies – especially dark leafy greens like kale, spinach and collard greens – also experienced less age-related memory loss over the years.
To get your fill, try adding some spinach to your morning smoothie, baking some kale chips to snack on or integrating collard greens to your side salads.
Alternatively, you can also opt for folic-acid enriched foods such as breakfast cereal or other enriched flour-based products such as bread, bagels and tortillas!
Whole Grains & Legumes
Carbohydrates, including sugar, are not only our body’s number one source of fuel, but also our brain’s top pic! Yet, brain-cells, unlike most other cells in the body, don’t store sugar, meaning they always require a readily available source to continue functioning at top capacity.
Just like a Ferrari that can no longer properly speed down the highway when it runs out of fuel, a non-adequate supply of carbohydrates to our brains normally results in a decreased ability to focus, concentrate, or recall things. Basically, if you’re looking to improve your memory, start by giving your brain the carbohydrates it needs!
But not all types of carbohydrates have the same effect. The trick is to opt for complex sources such as whole grains, beans and lentils, as they will release that energy at a slower, more sustained rate, steadily feeding your brain’s activities throughout the day. As a little extra, it just so happens that these foods are also high in folate, the memory-boosting B-vitamin! That’s what I call lighting two candles with one matchstick!
What can’t coffee do? In addition to providing us with more health benefits than previously thought, having a couple of cups of joe per day can also help keep your memory on point!
Indeed, researchers observing the effect of caffeine on the brain noted that an amount of caffeine equivalent to that found in 2 cups of coffee successfully increased brain activity in two particular locations of the brain, one of which is involved with memory.
More concretely, a separate research group noted that women over 65 years who drank three or more cups of coffee a day were better at recalling words than women who consumed little or no coffee.
To top it all off, coffee might also have preventative effect when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease. So drink up, but, for best health effects, try limiting your total caffeine intake to less than 400mg (the equivalent of about 4 1/2 cups of coffee) per day.
Here’s some good news for chocolate lovers around the world; a recent study found that seniors who drank two cups of cocoa every day for a month had improved blood flow to the brain and performed better on memory tests.
This is likely due to flavonol, the main antioxidant found in cocoa, that has been linked to brain health.
But the positives of chocolate don’t stop there! As you can probably attest to, chocolate can also improve mood and ease pain. As if we needed any more reasons to want to eat chocolate…
And, for those of you that don’t particularly like coffee, it might be worth noting that a 30g portion of dark chocolate contains about 15% of the amount of caffeine you’d find in a cup of coffee.
Chewing gum is no longer just a way of achieving fresher breath; it can also help jolt your memory. A fairly recent study had two groups of people listen to a 30-minute recording of a sequence of numbers. When later asked to recall the sequence, the group that chewed gum had faster reaction times and higher accuracy rates than the group without the jaw action! So pop that piece of Mentos in your mouth and help your memory stay fresh!
Pumpkin and sesame seeds are a great source of the amino acid tyrosine, which the brain uses to produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for keeping your brain alert and your memory strong. Nuts and seeds are also a great source of zinc, a vital nutrient when it comes to enhancing memory and thinking skills.
What’s more, they’re are also rich in magnesium and vitamin B6, two additional nutrients shown to help improve learning, memory and even help restore brain function following brain injury.
Just a handful of nuts or seeds a day is enough to reach your daily zinc needs, as well as about one fifth of the recommended intake of vitamin B6 and magnesium. Plus, nuts and seeds make an incredibly easy snack that can easily bridge the gap between two meals.
While on the topic of nuts and seeds, almonds are one of the best source of vitamin E. And, according to the American Journal of Epidemiology, a good intake of vitamin E might help prevent age-related cognitive decline.
Interestingly, vitamin E may also help prevent memory loss caused by lack of sleep.
To get your fix, add an ounce a day of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, peanut butter, tahini, flax or sunflower seeds to your diet.
Other great sources of vitamin E include leafy green vegetables (think spinach, kale and collard greens, already mentioned above), eggs, olives, plant oils and whole grains.
In addition to it’s seeds being a great source of the amino acid tyrosine, watermelon is made up of principally, you’ve guessed it, water! And this is greatly beneficial to your brain, as even a mild case of dehydration can reduce your mental energy and capacity, causing your memory to become impaired.
Sure, you can aim to consume the generally recommended 2 – 3 liters of fluids per day. However, since hydration recommendations can be influenced by a number of variables (think ambient temperature, activity level, sex, age, sweat rates, etc) a better recommendation might be to consume however many fluid and fluid-containing foods are needed to yield a urine that’s light in color. By that, I mean similar color of lemonade, not apple juice! Watermelon’s an easy way to do just that, especially if you find good old water plain boring!
I’m aware that this might sound odd, but, hear me out! Capers are actually a great source of quercetin, a flavonoid commonly found in tea. A mere tablespoon of capers actually has about double the amount found in one cup of green tea.
What’s particularly interesting is that quercetin is praised for its capacity to improve blood flow to the brain, decrease oxidative stress and…prevent memory loss! Recent research (in mice) found quercetin to be particularly effective at improving memory deficits caused by chronic stress.
Don’t like capers? Load up on the next best sources; cranberries, buckwheat and apples!
Shellfish & Crustaceans
Shellfish, such as oysters and mussels, as well as crustaceans such as crayfish, shrimp and lobster are particularly good sources of vitamin B12, a nutrient which plays a large role in preventing memory loss.
Allergic to seafood or following a plant-based diet? Then opt for B12-enriched foods such as tofu, breakfast cereal or plant-milks or simply add a supplement providing ± 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day you’re set to go!
Wondering how this beverage can help keep your memory sharp? It has to do with two things.
First, soy milk is generally supplemented in vitamin D, which, over the past decade, has been linked to many positive effects including some on the brain’s processing speed and memory capacity. Sure, your body can also produce sufficient vitamin D through short bursts of sun-exposure. However, this might be more difficult between the months of October and May, especially if you live in northern latitudes. So, when fall rolls around, opting for vitamin D-rich food sources such as fish, shellfish and vitamin-D enriched soy milk is one of the best ways to ensure you get enough of this important nutrient.
Secondly, soy milk, unlike its animal-based counterparts, also contains isoflavones, which have been shown to have beneficial effects on several types of memory.
Not a fan of soy milk, fish or shellfish? Speak to your healthcare provider about adding a daily or weekly vitamin D supplement to your routine. It can help more than just your memory!
Did you know that what’s going on in your gut may actually have a great impact on the way your brain functions? As surprising as this sounds, each year, more and more research emerges pointing to this exact link. And that’s where probiotic-loaded foods, such as miso, come into play.
Studies performed on populations with naturally low levels of probiotics in their gut have found evidence suggesting that poorer gut health is related with brain function impairments such as memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion.
Last, but not least, integrating rosemary into your dishes can do more than just add flavor! Research has recently linked the oral consumption of this herb to positive effects on memory.
What’s more, according to a clever research published in the British Journal of Psychology, the smell of rosemary alone may improve memory and brain function. This effect is apparently due the distinctiveness of the herb’s smell, which means it may only work at helping you recall things that happened while its aroma was floating in the air.
Perhaps a strong enough reason enough to carry a little bottle of essential rosemary oil around when working on particularly memory-challenging tasks?
As you can see, there are many foods you can use to your advantage when it comes to improving your memory, and good choices for Alzheimers care to boot. Pick and choose, or give them all a try and get ready to hone an elephant-worthy ability!
Interested in finding out more about how specific foods can help you improve various aspects of your life? Don’t hesitate to let me know which ones in the comment section below!