Top 10 Brain Foods

Boost your cognitive powers, enhance memory, and protect against neuro-degenerative diseases with these powerful brain-protecting foods

Are you worried by brain fog and fuzzy thinking? Have trouble remembering where you left your keys? Or maybe you’re just concerned about memory loss or other cognitive issues as you age. The answer may lie in your diet—specifically in boosting your intake of these potent, brain-supporting foods.

1. Salmon

Is rich in omega-3 fats, linked in dozens of studies with reduction in cognitive decline in the elderly, protection against Alzheimer’s, and general improvement in cognition and mood. If you don’t eat meat, walnuts, flax, and chia are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a fatty acid that can be converted by the body to omega-3s.

Try this: wrap asparagus spears in smoked salmon; add crumbled cooked salmon to scrambled eggs; toss salmon with pasta, olive oil, and minced chives.

2. Cocoa

Is high in flavonols, antioxidants that have been shown to increase learning, improve memory, and boost overall brain power. Some studies show that this effect is greatly enhanced when combined with exercise. Other good sources of flavonols include apples, onions, green tea, citrus fruits, red wine, and tomatoes.

Try this: add a handful of raw cacao nibs to smoothies; stir dark cocoa powder into your morning coffee; sprinkle dark chocolate shavings over a bowl of fresh raspberries or strawberries.

3. Nutritional yeast

Is high in folate, a B vitamin linked with healthy fetal brain development and overall cognitive improvement. Deficiencies can lead to neurological disorders such as depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Nutritional yeast is also high in vitamins B6 and B12, which are equally important for brain health and memory performance.

Try this: purée cashew butter, nutritional yeast, and water for a creamy “cheese” sauce; toss with cooked pasta and olive oil; sprinkle over steamed broccoli tossed with olive oil.

4. Turmeric

Contains curcumin, an antioxidant that may help prevent the accumulation of plaque formations linked with Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show curcumin can protect against cognitive decline and lessen impairment in traumatic brain injury, and may even stimulate new brain cell production.

Try this: combine with warm milk and honey for a traditional Ayurvedic beverage; toss warm chickpeas with turmeric, coconut oil, and chopped tomatoes; add grated fresh turmeric root to sautéed garlic and kale.

5. Spinach

Is high in lutein, an antioxidant that protects the brain from free-radical damage and inflammation. People with mild cognitive impairment have been shown to have reduced lutein status, and boosting lutein levels has been shown to enhance learning and memory. Other good sources of lutein: kale, chard, collards, yellow peppers, and egg yolks.

Try this: finely chop spinach and stir into pasta sauce; purée with white beans, garlic, and olive oil for a fast dip; add a handful to breakfast smoothies.

6. Avocado

Is rich in vitamin E, shown to slow cognitive decline in the elderly and reduce impairment after brain trauma. Because avocados contain healthy monounsaturated fats, they also improve the absorption of antioxidants in spinach, kale, and other leafy greens when eaten together. Wheat germ, almonds, eggs, and sunflower seeds are other good sources of vitamin E.

Try this: mash avocado with cooked potatoes or cauliflower just before serving; purée with olive oil and apple cider vinegar for a creamy dressing; halve avocado lengthwise, remove pit, brush with olive oil, and grill.

7. Eggs

Are loaded with choline, a type of B vitamin that can enhance memory and cognition. It’s essential in the production of phosphatidylcholine, a critical component of cell membranes, especially brain cells. Meat, fish, asparagus, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts are other good sources.

Try this: make deviled eggs, but mash yolks with avocado instead of mayonnaise; scramble eggs with tikka masala sauce for a fast egg curry; bake eggs and minced vegetables in ramekins, then top with shaved cheese.

8. Celery

Contains luteolin, a flavonoid antioxidant that helps to protect the brain from inflammation, cognitive aging, and neurodegenerative diseases. It can also greatly enhance memory, learning, and spatial awareness. Other dietary sources of luteolin include raw radicchio, peppers, parsley, artichokes, juniper berries, dried oregano, and sage.

Try this: stuff celery stalks with almond butter, and top with dried cranberries; juice it with carrots and ginger; toss sliced celery with garlic and olive oil and roast till golden

9. Rosemary

Is high in carnosic acid, a potent phytochemical that can enhance learning and spatial memory, help reduce oxidative stress, and prevent neuron damage. Studies suggest that carnosic acid can also protect against Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. In addition to rosemary, it can be found in sage, as well as in small amounts in other foods.

Try this: add whole rosemary sprigs to soups during cooking; mince rosemary needles and add them to bread dough; use rosemary sprigs as skewers for grilling vegetables.

10. Yogurt

Contains probiotics, beneficial bacteria that keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy. Because about 90 percent of the body’s serotonin—a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and behavior—is made in the gut, it’s important to keep the intestinal lining healthy. Studies also show taking probiotic supplements can improve mental outlook and lower stress and anxiety levels.

Try this: combine with puréed mango for a fast, refreshing lassi; whisk with honey, and drizzle over grilled peaches; mix with minced herbs to make a creamy, healthy dressing.

Pumpernickel Toasts with Smoked Salmon & Avocado Cream Cheese 

Avocado adds a smooth, buttery note to this bagel and lox-style recipe, and it provides a nice contrast to the salty smoked salmon.

Serves: 12


  • 12 large slices pumpernickel bread, halved, brushed with extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz. organic cream cheese, softened
  • 1 large avocado
  • 3 Tbs. minced fresh dill
  • 2 tsp. minced lemon zest
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbs. capers
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 8 oz. sliced wild smoked salmon
  • 1 cup thinly sliced English cucumbers
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Fresh dill sprigs


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Toast bread on a baking sheet until crisped, 10 minutes.
  2. Combine cream cheese, avocado, minced dill, zest, and lemon juice, and season with salt and black pepper.
  3. Spread bread with avocado cream cheese, then top with capers, red onion, salmon, and cucumbers.
  4. Drizzle toasts with oil, season with salt, black pepper, and pepper flakes, then garnish with dill sprigs

Nutrition Information

Calories: 240 Fat: 13g Saturated fat: 5g Carbohydrates: 16g Sugar: 1g Sodium: 270mg Fiber: 3g Protein: 15g Cholesterol: 50mg

Lisa Turner has been researching and writing about nutrition, and cooking great natural meals, for almost 20 years. She’s the author of five books on food and nutrition, including Mostly Macro and Meals That Heal, and writes monthly food columns for national magazines. She has appeared on national and local television and radio shows, taught cooking classes at Whole Foods Market and Cooking School of the Rockies, and has lectured across the United States on food, health and nutrition. Lisa has degrees in natural healing, shiatsu and acupressure, has studied macrobiotics extensively, and has been a traveling chef with The Kushi Institute. She is also a certified yoga instructor and Shiatsu practitioner, and has been practicing yoga and meditation for more than 20 years. Visit her online at, where you can email her and learn more about her work.

Article courtesy of Better Nutrition


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