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10 Great Superfoods to Support Brain Health

Research says these delicious foods may help your memory and mood


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What you eat influences how you think. It's that simple. Your food choices affect your brain and may even make a difference between clear thinking and forgetfulness. Meals and snacks may also determine your mood — whether you feel upbeat or blue, energetic or sluggish.

"There is no single magic dietary bullet for brain health, in part because a healthy brain depends on having the rest of your body healthy as well," says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Instead, a wide variety of nourishing foods is best for maintaining a healthy brain, Willett notes. "Good blood circulation is important, so healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates are a good beginning," he continues. Here are 10 foods research suggests may help support brain health — and some terrific substitutes to try as well, along with recipes to help you make these superfoods part of your super diet.

1. Kale

This leafy green is rich in naturally occurring plant pigments that the body can't produce itself. Studies suggest that these substances, called carotenoids, help slow the loss of memory and thinking skills that typically comes with age. Kale also contains abundant amounts of folate, also called vitamin B9. Folate is necessary for the production of dopamine, a brain chemical that seems to soothe nerves and improve mood and alertness. Note: Kale retains nutrients if you make your own kale chips. If you're considering a bag of commercial kale chips, check to see that it's not loaded with salt, sugar or cane syrup, another name for sugar.

Not a fan of kale?

Broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy or collards can take its place.

Need some inspiration? Try Kale Salad With Preserved Lemon & Walnuts.

2. Eggs

Soft-boiled, hard-boiled, scrambled or coddled, eggs benefit your brain and nervous system. The yolks are packed with choline, a nutrient related to B vitamins that is involved in producing chemicals that affect mood and memory. Several studies conclude that people who eat foods rich in choline do better on memory tests and are less likely to show signs of impaired thinking over time than those who ate foods with the least amount of choline. An added bonus: The yolks are also a stellar source of natural vitamin D, which some studies have linked to protection against memory loss and forgetfulness.

Not a fan of eggs?

Help yourself to roasted soybeans, baked red potatoes (leave the skin on), chickpeas, snow peas or kidney beans.

Try Spicy Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce.

3. Avocados

This green fruit is a good source of a family of B vitamins that play a role in producing brain chemicals that may improve mood and protect memory and even help prevent anxiety and relieve irritability. Avocados also provide lutein, a nutrient that's important for brain health as well as eye health. Some studies have found that lutein may improve memory as well as problem-solving ability. Although avocados contain fat, it's unsaturated fat, the kind usually called "good fat" because it can improve blood cholesterol and stabilize hearth rhythms.

Not a fan of avocados?

Try broccoli, corn, kale, peas, pistachios or spinach instead.

Pair this Creamy Avocado and Bean Wrap with tortilla chips and salsa.

4. Lemons and limes

Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit and their lesser-known citrus fruit cousins —  including pomelos, kumquats, bergamot and finger limes — do more than add a tart spark of flavor to food. They contain naturally occurring compounds called polyphenols that safeguard the brain's nerve cells. Several studies that explored the impact of food on mental abilities concluded that citrus fruits may be linked with protecting long-term memory and mental skills such as thinking, planning ahead and following directions.

Not a fan of citrus fruits?

Apples, berries, cherries, grapes, pears or plums are effective stand-ins.

For a change of pace, serve this Persian Cucumber and Tomato Salad With Preserved Lemon for lunch.

5. Walnuts

Walnuts offer more than a mild, satisfying taste. These small, gnarled nuts are good for your brain as well as your body. Research suggests munching on walnuts helps guard against memory loss and may help delay a decline in thinking skills that generally comes with age. Research has found that walnuts also seem to enhance mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning, learning and remembering. In addition, some intriguing research has found that including walnuts in your meals or as a snack may prepare the body to deal better with stress. Rich in protein and fiber, a handful of walnuts can be a satisfying snack.

Not a fan of walnuts?

In their place, pour a handful of other tree nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews and pecans.

This hearty salad gets dressed up with glazed walnuts.

6. Black beans

These unassuming beans contain a significant amount of folate, aka vitamin B9. A deficit of this vital nutrient may contribute to memory loss, forgetfulness and impaired thinking. Folate is water-soluble and is not stored in the body in large amounts, so you have to top up your stores through the foods you eat. Black-eyed peas, green beans, kidney beans, lentils and white beans — all members of the bean family — provide a good amounts of folate. Canned beans? They're fine if you rinse them before using, in order to take away excess sodium and starchy water.

Not a fan of beans?

Asparagus, broccoli, beets or spinach offer similar benefits.

Combine the best of both worlds in a nacho-pizza combination.

7. Blueberries

Blueberries, as well as blackberries, raspberries and other berry fruits, may help protect against thinking problems that sometime come with the passing of time. These bright and colorful fruits contain naturally occurring plant chemicals (phytonutrients) that play a role in improving communication between brain cells. A long-term study of older adults revealed those who consumed the most berries, particularly blueberries and strawberries, delayed the loss in thinking skills by up to two and a half years, compared with those who ate the least. Other research has found that berries may also enhance mood and decrease the risk of developing depression.

Not a fan of berries?

Try fresh, frozen or dried red grapes, kiwi, figs or rhubarb in their place.

Start your day with this delicious blueberry pecan oatmeal

8. Rolled oats

Your brain, along with the rest of your body, cannot work without energy, and certain foods work better than others to stoke that energy. Diets high in processed, fatty foods and refined sugar (think sugar-glazed doughnuts dipped in sprinkles) shortchange your body of healthy complex carbs and don't do your mind or mood any favors. They may, in fact, lead to brain fog and memory problems. Foods rich in complex carbs, on the other hand, provide a steady supply of glucose that slowly releases energy to fuel the brain and support mental alertness. To help keep your brain in good working order, choose rolled oats, whole-grain breads and pastas or barley.

Not a fan of oats?

Look for starchy vegetables like fresh corn, potatoes, squash and quinoa (although classified as a whole grain, it's technically a seed).

Stow a batch of these blueberry-oatmeal cakes in the freezer to microwave for a healthy grab-and-go breakfast.

9. Extra-virgin olive oil

No wonder you'll find a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil in most Mediterranean kitchens. Extra virgin olive oil does more than flavor food. In one study, men and women who added this liquid gold to their everyday meals were better able to organize their thoughts and had better memory. The researchers suspect that specific compounds in olive oil may stimulate the growth of new brain cells. Other researchers note that the compounds found in olive oil may help increase mental focus and slow the decline in thinking skills that come with age.

Not a fan of olive oil?

If you don't like the robust taste of olive oil, reach for a bottle of almond, avocado, flaxseed or grapeseed oil instead. Although they haven’t been studied as much for brain health benefits as olive oil, they do have healthy unsaturated fat and omega fatty acids.

Mix this basil pesto in tomato or potato salad, or spread it on bread as a flavorful sandwich base.

10. Coffee and tea

Jump-start your day with a warm cuppa tea or mug of coffee. In addition to the comforting aroma, there's a great bonus: Some research suggests that these familiar drinks may slow down brain aging, improve mood and help protect against memory disorders. Pass up ready-made bottles of tea or coffee drinks — you'll reap these benefits only from freshly brewed coffee and from black, oolong or green tea brewed from tea leaves.

Not a fan of coffee or tea?

Pour yourself a cup of hot water and add a squeeze of lemon juice for an age-old way to greet the day. (Though you won’t get the health benefits mentioned above for coffee or tea.)

Bake a batch of banana bread with coffee for a new twist on an old favorite.

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