Our brain is the control centre of our body. It keeps our heart beating, our lungs breathing, and allows us to move, think, and feel. While cognitive function can naturally slow down later in life, certain lifestyle factors, like diet, can impact our risk of age-related cognitive decline and dementia.
Interestingly, science estimates that over 75% of the brain changes that lead to dementia could be connected to our lifestyle. What’s more, separate research suggests that by eating certain foods, we can reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 53%.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of 12 foods that can help to reduce the risk of dementia.
1. Fatty fish
Fatty fish is often at the top of any brain-boosting foods list. Examples of fatty fish include tuna, salmon, trout, and sardines – which are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
The brain itself is made from fat; about half of which is composed of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is important for building brain and nerve cells, and plays a key role in learning and memory.
Research has shown that omega-3 can slow age-related mental decline and help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Low levels of omega-3s have been linked with learning impairments and depression.
Other studies have suggested that people who eat fatty fish regularly tend to have more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter is made mostly of the nerve cells that control memory, decision-making, and emotion.
You only need to eat fatty fish once a week to enjoy the health benefits. For inspiration, check out these 10 oily fish recipes from The Guardian. You’ll find quick and easy lunch recipes like mackerel pate on toast and whitebait fritters, and delicious dinners like fresh trout salad and smoked salmon pasta.
If a cup of coffee is the highlight of your morning, there’s good news. The two main components of coffee – caffeine and antioxidants – can help to support brain health.
The immediate effects of caffeine include increased alertness, concentration, and improved mood.
Meanwhile, science suggests that the long-term effects of drinking coffee include a reduced risk of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. And according to studies, the greatest risk reduction is in adults who drink between three and four cups of coffee each day.
That being said, having too much caffeine has been shown to cause side effects like anxiety, insomnia, increased urination, and digestive issues, so it’s important not to overdo it. Experts recommend drinking no more than six cups per day.
Blueberries provide several brain-boosting health benefits. Like other deeply-coloured berries, they contain anthocyanins – a group of plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Antioxidants help to prevent oxidative stress (a state where the body has an imbalance of harmful cells, known as free radicals, that can damage cells) and inflammation – both of which can contribute to cognitive ageing and neurodegenerative diseases.
Studies have also shown that some of the antioxidants in blueberries can accumulate in the brain and help improve communication between brain cells.
Plus, a scientific review concluded that blueberries can help improve memory and cognitive processes in older adults.
Blueberries are delicious on their own, but also make great additions to a variety of dishes. Hopefully one of these 56 healthy ways to eat more blueberries from Greatist will inspire you. From healthy blueberry muffins, breakfast bars, and smoothies, to blueberry guacamole and quinoa salad, there’s something for everyone.
To enjoy the health benefits, experts recommend eating blueberries at least twice a week.
Turmeric is a deep-yellow spice that’s a key ingredient in many curry powders.
Curcumin – the active ingredient in turmeric – has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, where it can directly enter the brain and protect cells against age-related decline.
Studies have suggested that curcumin could help to clear amyloid plaques (which are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease) in the brain. It’s also thought to help brain cells grow, and delay age-related cognitive decline.
Nevertheless, it’s worth keeping in mind that the majority of research uses highly concentrated curcumin supplements. These contain much more curcumin than most people typically consume when using turmeric as a spice because it’s only made up of around 3-6% curcumin.
Therefore, while seasoning your food with turmeric can be beneficial, the full benefits can only be gained by taking a curcumin supplement. However, you should always speak to your GP before taking anything new.
Avocados have various properties that make them a great option when it comes to boosting brain health and reducing the risk of dementia.
Rich in monounsaturated fats, avocados can help to lower blood pressure and boost blood flow – both of which have been shown to lower the risk of cognitive decline. Monounsaturated fats are also known to help prevent insulin resistance and fight type 2 diabetes, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Plus, avocados are high in folate and potassium. Folate is thought to prevent the development of brain tangles linked to Alzheimer’s, while potassium, when combined with omega-3s, may help to lower blood pressure.
For ideas and inspiration on how to incorporate more avocados into your diet, why not try making one of these healthy avocado recipes from BBC Good Food? From classic poached eggs and avocado to avocado linguine, there should hopefully be something to stir everyone’s appetite.
6. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are full of powerful antioxidants that can protect the body and brain from free-radical damage.
For example, zinc and copper play an essential role in nerve signalling. And science has linked zinc deficiency with various neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and Parkinson’s disease.
Pumpkin seeds are delicious when sprinkled over colourful salads and crunchy granola. Have a look at these healthy pumpkin seed recipes from Eating Well for inspiration. You could try making pumpkin-seed-crusted salmon, or a low-carb pumpkin-seed bread loaf.
Vitamin K is essential for forming sphingolipids – a type of fat that’s closely packed into brain cells. Studies in older adults have also shown that increased vitamin K intake is linked with better memory and cognitive function.
Another benefit of broccoli is that it contains various compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. These can help to protect the brain against damage.
Experts suggest eating at least two servings of broccoli a week, and six or more servings for the greatest brain benefits. Though, if you’re not a fan of broccoli, you can always pick an alternative from the cruciferous vegetable family, such as spinach, kale, and cabbage.
Why not try making one of these delicious cruciferous vegetable recipes from A Couple Cooks?
8. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are full of brain-boosting compounds, including caffeine and flavonoids (types of antioxidants).
Flavonoids gather in areas of the brain that regulate learning and memory. And experts have suggested that these compounds can improve memory and slow down age-related mental decline.
This study found that those who ate dark chocolate more frequently performed better in a series of mental tasks – including improved memory function – compared with those who ate it less often.
Aside from its brain health benefits, dark chocolate is also a proven mood booster. This study found that participants who ate chocolate experienced increased positive feelings compared to those who ate crackers.
Dark chocolate contains at least 70% cocoa, so unfortunately, the same benefits aren’t seen in milk chocolate, which only contains between 10 and 50% cocoa – or in white chocolate, which contains no cocoa at all.
If you’re in the mood for some chocolate, you could try making these healthy dark chocolate treats from This Healthy Table, which contain chocolate, pomegranate, orange, and pistachios.
The brain-boosting benefits of nuts may not be immediately obvious because they’re mainly associated with improved heart health. However, a healthy heart and a healthy brain are intrinsically linked – and research shows that a healthy heart can slow cognitive ageing.
One study found that women who ate nuts regularly over several years had sharper memories than those who didn’t eat nuts at all.
These benefits can be traced back to the various nutrients found in nuts, including healthy fats, vitamin E, and antioxidants. For example, vitamin E is known to protect cells against free-radical damage and slow mental decline.
While all nuts have benefits when it comes to brain health, research suggests that walnuts may have an extra edge because they’re also rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. To reap the full benefits of eating nuts for brain health, experts recommend eating them at least five times a week.
You can read more about how to eat nuts the healthy way on Harvard Health.
You can get almost all of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C from eating one medium-sized orange. Research shows that vitamin C is essential for brain health and a key factor in preventing cognitive decline.
For example, this study found that higher levels of vitamin C in the blood was associated with improved performance in tasks centred on memory, focus, attention, and decision-making speed.
Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that helps to fight off free radicals and prevent damage to brain cells. This is important for protecting brain cells as we age, and can help to reduce the risk of conditions like anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
You’ll find plenty of delicious healthy orange recipes on Eating Well. Or, if you don’t like oranges, other foods such as kiwis, bell peppers, tomatoes, guava, and strawberries also contain high amounts of vitamin C.
Eggs are a great source of several nutrients linked to brain health, including vitamins B12 and B6, choline, and folate. Choline is an important micronutrient that the body uses to create acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and memory).
Studies have revealed that a higher intake of choline is linked to better memory and mental function. However, many people don’t get enough choline through their diet.
A good way of boosting choline intake is by eating eggs because egg yolks are one of the most concentrated sources of the nutrient. The recommended daily intake of choline is 425mg per day for most women and 550mg for men. A single egg yolk contains around 112mg.
Research has also found that the B vitamins found in eggs may help to slow the progression of cognitive decline in older adults. This is because they help to lower levels of homocysteine – an amino acid linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
For some new ways to enjoy eggs, why not check our list of 10 quick and easy egg recipes?
12. Green tea
Just like coffee, the caffeine found in green tea boosts brain function. Studies have shown that green tea can improve memory, alertness, performance, and focus.
The fact that green tea is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants is also important, as research suggests these help protect the brain from cognitive decline and reduce the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Green tea is available in a variety of flavours, including gingerbread and raspberry, and contains zero calories when unsweetened. You can browse the green tea varieties available to buy on Amazon.
What we eat has a direct impact on our brain health and cognitive function. By making some quick and easy diet tweaks, science tells us that we can help to reduce our chances of developing dementia later in life. So why not start today?
For more health and lifestyle change tips, head over to the health section of our website, Here you’ll find everything from how exercise can lead to better brain health and science-backed activities that can keep your brain healthy.
What steps do you take to take care of your brain health? Are there any other foods that you think are worth noting? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.