A Nutritionist Reveals The 7 Best Foods For Your Brain

A person prepares a brain-food rich lunch at their kitchen counter

You've probably heard the term "brain food." It's not just a saying — there are actually lots of foods that help your brain be more productive. Just like your car needs gas and oil to keep running smoothly, your brain needs certain nutrients to function at its best.

"Omega-3 rich foods like small, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, anchovies, sardines) and all nuts/seeds, specifically chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flaxseeds, and walnuts, have been linked to neuro-protective benefits [against] aging and tissue injury," Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition tells Bustle.

You might notice you feel tired and foggy if you skip meals or eat a lot of sugar. That's because, according to the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute at Harvard Medical School, consuming too much sugar is linked to cognitive deficiencies. While it's tempting to reach for the gummy bears when you feel that afternoon slump coming on, you're better served by choosing foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and antioxidants, which are known to support brain function, Harvard Health reported.

If you're looking for an all-natch brain boost, it might be as easy as a trip to the grocery store where you can stock up on foods that not only make your brain more productive, they taste good, too. Here's what Moreno recommends to power your brain like a boss.


Coffee & Tea

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If you consider coffee one of your vices, you can move it into the virtue column because coffee and tea are both good for your brain health. "Coffee keeps emerging time and time again as having favorable effects both on cognition (it is surely an energy booster) but also neuro-protective effects against aging and brain-related diseases like Alzheimer's," Moreno says.

In addition, a 2014 study published in The Journal of Nutrition had similar things to say about caffeine. "The findings were generally supportive of the idea that a high-quality diet and higher caffeine intake may benefit cognition acutely and even prevent age-related declines in certain cognitive domains, including global cognition, verbal memory, and attention."


Leafy Greens

As a kid, I thought green veggies were the grossest thing ever. This was probably due my family serving them from a can — so mushy. However, as a grown-ass woman, I have found that sautéed spinach is one of the most delightful foods out there, and it's good for your brain, which is an added bonus.

"Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline," Harvard Health reported.



Aside from being delicious, blueberries are hella good for your brain. The Telegraph UK reported that previous studies have shown that, "Just one [7 oz] blueberry smoothie was enough to increase powers of concentration by as much as 20% over the day." Moreno agrees that berries can give your brain a big boost.

"While all fruits have nutritional merit, berries in particular are repeatedly studied and found to have neuro-protective effects," she says. "Whether it's from their antioxidant compounds, the water content, the fiber, or the synergy of vitamins and minerals — the point is — we recommend berries. So have at 'em for brain health."


Fatty Fish

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Eating fatty fish is a great all-natch way to keep your brain in tip-top shape. Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to cognitive function, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Try to eat fish at least twice a week, but choose varieties that are low in mercury, such as salmon, cod, canned light tuna, and pollack," Harvard Health recommended. Fish not your jam? You can take a fish-oil supplement instead.

Moreno says omega-3 rich fatty fish can fight brain inflammation as well as inflammation associated with myriad chronic diseases.


Pumpkin Seeds

This one was a surprise to me, but it turns out that pumpkin seeds are full of brain-boosting vitamins like zinc, magnesium, copper, and iron. And according to research from the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, they can reduce your risk of developing certain cancers. If pumpkin seeds aren't your jam, Moreno says that pretty much all nuts and seeds can boost your brain health.


Dark Chocolate

Not only is chocolate universally beloved, studies have shown that dark chocolate has significant brain-boosting powers. A 2018 study published in the The FASEB Journal found that chocolate containing at least 70% cacao enhances neuroplasticity, which is basically your brain's ability to form new neural connections.

Moreno says: "The antioxidant compounds and magnesium in dark chocolate may have neuro-protective effects. Real dark chocolate also has fiber and iron. We are talking 85%-100% cacao. It's bitter and the recommended amount is 1-1.5 oz per day. It's literally the cacao bean from the plant."



Yep, good old H2O. "It's not sexy, but it works," Moreno says. "Being dehydrated can definitely affect cognition, mood, and productivity — even a 1% dehydration can cause this! Start a habit of having a full glass (at least 8 oz) BEFORE each meal so you can 'pre-hydrate' and at least get that 24 oz in to meet your fluid goal," though individual needs


If you put in a little effort, it's entirely possible to eat all of these things every day to keep your brain functioning at its level best. Start your day with coffee or tea and a smoothie with blueberries. Make sure your lunch contains some leafy greens.

Nuts and pumpkin seeds make a great snack, you can have fish for dinner, and dark chocolate for dessert. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good day of eating to me. If you just can't get all of these things in your body on the regular, you can opt for brain-boosting vitamins or supplements to help pick up the slack. #FeedYourBrain


Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition

Studies referenced:

May A. Beydoun, Alyssa A. Gamaldo, Hind A. Beydoun, Toshiko Tanaka, Katherine L. Tucker, Sameera A. Talegawkar, Luigi Ferrucci, Alan B. Zonderman, Caffeine and Alcohol Intakes and Overall Nutrient Adequacy Are Associated with Longitudinal Cognitive Performance among U.S. Adults, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 144, Issue 6, June 2014, Pages 890–901,

Lee Berk, Josh Miller, Kristin Bruhjell, SAYALI Dhuri, KRISHA PATEL, Everett Lohman, Gurinder Bains, and Ryan Berk Dark chocolate (70% organic cacao) increases acute and chronic EEG power spectral density (μV2) response of gamma frequency (25–40 Hz) for brain health: enhancement of neuroplasticity, neural synchrony, cognitive processing, learning, memory, recall, and mindfulness meditation. The FASEB Journal 2018 32:1_supplement, 878.10-878.10