10 foods to boost your brainpower

Eating well is good for your mental as well as your physical health. But which foods are particularly important to keep your grey matter happy and healthy?

10 foods to boost your brainpower

Whether you want to optimise your nutrition during exam season or simply want to stay sharp in your next work meeting, paying attention to your diet can really pay off. Although there is no single 'brain food' that can protect against age-related disorders such as Alzheimers' or dementia, and there are many other medical conditions that can affect the brain, paying attention to what you eat gives you the best chance of getting all the nutrients you need for cognitive health.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes these 10 brain-boosting foods may help to keep your memory, concentration and focus as sharp as it can be.

1. Wholegrains

May help improve concentration and focus

A selection of wholegrain foods including wholemeal bread, spelt and wholemeal pasta

Like everything else in your body, the brain cannot work without energy. The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate, steady supply of energy - in the form of glucose in our blood to the brain. Achieve this by choosing wholegrains with a low-GI, which release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day. Opt for 'brown' wholegrain cereals, granary bread, rice and pasta.

Find our favourite healthy pasta and healthy rice recipes.

2. Oily fish

May help promote healthy brain function

A fillet of salmon on a chopping board with other cooking ingredients

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body which means they must be obtained through diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish in the form of EPA and DHA. Good plant sources include linseed (flaxseed), soya beans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and their oils. These fats are important for healthy brain function, the heart, joints and our general wellbeing. What makes oily fish so good is that they contain the active form of these fats, EPA and DHA, in a ready-made form, which enables the body to use it easily. The main sources of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers. Low DHA levels have been linked to an increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer's disease and memory loss whilst having sufficient levels of both EPA and DHA is thought to help us manage stress and helps make the good mood brain chemical, serotonin. If you're vegetarian or vegan, you may wish to add seeds like linseed and chia to your diet, or consider a plant-based omega-3 supplement. If you are considering taking a supplement speak to your GP first.

Learn more about the health benefits of salmon.

3. Blueberries

May help boost short-term memory

Fresh blueberries

Evidence accumulated at Tufts University in the United States suggests that the consumption of blueberries may be effective in improving or delaying short term memory loss. They're widely available, but you can also look out for dark red and purple fruits and veg which contain the same protective compounds called anthocyanins.

Read more about the health benefits of blueberries.

4. Tomatoes

May help prevent free radical damage

Fresh, ripe tomatoes on a table

There is good evidence to suggest that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer's. Favour cooked tomatoes and enjoy with a little olive oil to optimise absorption and efficacy.

Discover more: Which foods should you eat raw or cooked?

5. Eggs

May help delay brain shrinkage

Two eggs cracked into a bowl and whisked

Certain B vitamins - B6, B12 and folic acid - are known to reduce levels of a compound called homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. A study of a group of elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment found that after two years of intervention with high doses of B6, B12 and folic acid there was significantly less brain shrinkage compared to a subset given placebo treatment. Opt for B-rich foods like eggs, chicken, fish and leafy greens.

Learn more about vitamin B12, and discover the health benefits of eggs.

6. Blackcurrants

May help reduce anxiety and stress

Fresh blackcurrants growing on a plant

Vitamin C has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility, and some research suggests that a deficiency may be a risk factor for age-related brain degeneration including dementia and Alzheimer's.  Furthermore, interesting studies demonstrate that vitamin C may be useful in managing anxiety and stress. One of the best sources of this vital vitamin are blackcurrants. Others include red peppers, citrus fruits such as oranges and broccoli.

Discover more about why we need vitamins.

7. Pumpkin seeds

May help enhance memory and boost mood

A bowl of pumpkin seeds

Richer in zinc than many other seeds, pumpkin seeds supply this valuable mineral which is vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills. These little seeds are also full of stress-busting magnesium, B vitamins and tryptophan, the precursor to the good mood chemical serotonin.

Read more about the health benefits of pumpkin seeds.

8. Broccoli

May help improve brainpower

A bowl filled with broccoli florets

Broccoli is great source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower. Researchers have reported that because broccoli is high in compounds called glucosinolates, it can slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which we need for the central nervous system to perform properly and to keep our brains and our memories sharp. Low levels of acetylcholine are associated with Alzheimer's.

Discover more about the health benefits of broccoli.

9. Sage

May help boost memory and concentration

A sage plant

Sage has long had a reputation for improving memory and concentration. Although most studies focus on sage as an essential oil, it could be worth adding fresh sage to your diet too. Add at the end of cooking to protect the beneficial oils.

Put sage to good use in our healthy recipes, including butternut soup with crispy sage, pearl barley & sage risotto and veal escalopes wrapped with proscuitto, sage & lemon.

10. Nuts

May help protect healthy brain function

A selection of mixed nuts in a bowl on a table

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that a good intake of vitamin E might help to prevent cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E along with leafy green vegetables, asparagus, olives, seeds, eggs, brown rice and wholegrains.

Learn more about the health benefits of nuts.

The importance of exercise

Don't forget that as well as a healthy diet, exercise helps to keep our brains sharp. Research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively.

Get inspired with our guides to how to workout at home and how to exercise for free.

Brainpower supplements

Although research linking diet and dementia is still in its infancy, there are a few important relationships between nutrients and brain health that are worth exploring. Having a nourishing, well rounded diet gives our brain the best chance of avoiding disease. If your diet is unbalanced for whatever reason, you may want to consider a multivitamin and mineral complex and an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to help make up a few of the essentials. If you are considering taking a supplement it is best to discuss this with your GP or qualified healthcare professional.

Download a printable PDF of the top 10 brain-boosting foods.

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This article was last reviewed on 17th July 2017 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at www.nutrijo.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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15th Apr, 2015
In India, okra is considered an important brain food, while brahmi is the herb traditionally used to cool the brain and build memory power. I was surprised neither of these figured on your list.
rhod mitch
31st Mar, 2015
Eating healthy foods is good to the mind as well as to the physical health. We can think properly and do things without facing any health problems. We can also avoid having diseases. Anyway thanks for sharing this. Keep on posting :)
2nd Jan, 2015
This is an awesome list. But as another member also noted, it surprised me that Green Tea and some other items (like Vinpocetine) were not included in the list. Regardless, I think this is a great introductory list, I'm definitely going to be looking to eat more of these foods. I also wanted to say that supplementation can also go a long way in meeting all the requirements too. Personally, along with taking vitamins and fish/flaxseed oil, I do also take a product called Limidax once a day. Limidax is a focus and concentration (brain-power) supplement that's made a great difference for me and its getting pretty popular, at least in my area, with professionals and college students (use it to study). It's completely all-natural and uses ten great ingredients with decades of research. Definitely something people should look into as well (they provide all the research and links to studies on their website; initially the main reason my friend and I bought it).
13th Nov, 2014
Learn the secret from the Mal Alzheimer researchers in Europe, the specific combination of very specific ingredients reverse much of memory loss,dementia and Alzheimer's disease. When you "Combine" the right targeted nutrition it actually revives the brain. See Here http://malalzheimer.blogspot.com/2014/11/alzheimers-disease-and-food.html
8th Oct, 2014
My friend just wrote a piece about this! As well as blueberries and oily fish he mentions turmeric, ginger, spinach. The only problem is that a lot of the studies are done on rats, not people! http://www.cafe.com/r/93239969-2fa4-4d82-b2d1-89a96975467d/1/a-recipe-for-the-ultimate-brain-food
Marguerite van As
3rd May, 2014
Marguerite van As (14213461) Thank you for the article, I enjoyed reading it. I have done a bit of reading on nuts in particular. I often hear that it is really healthy but did not know all the benefits it offers. Nuts, containing fibre and essential fats and a lot of protein, contributes not only to a healthy mind but also to physical health, such as your skin appearance. An example of this is Almonds. It is rich in calcium and high in vitamin E. I read that Vitamin E helps improve skin appearance. I had a rough skin and I started taking in a handful of almonds everyday. It really helped my skin. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects and repairs your skin. Antioxidants neutralize the oxidant effect of free radicals. They are molecules that damage collagen and cause skin dryness, wrinkles and pimples.
Katerina T
27th Apr, 2014
Very interesting and informative article about brain health! It has been proven that by eating the right food, you can boost your IQ, improve your mood, be more emotionally stable, sharpen your memory and keep your mind young. Your body ages as you get older, your brain often does too but IT DOESN'T HAVE TO! You can still have a healthy mind at your old age by eating the best brain foods. Here is another article how to boost your brain health: http://www.healthyfoodmind.com/food-brain-health/
31st Mar, 2014
Recent studies have shown that brain training tremendously increases the brain power. By using the newest and best brain training apps you'll be able to train your brain to the max! More at http://www.brainqo.com/category/brain-training-apps/
13th Mar, 2014
Thank you, I am really interested in knowing more about food that really helps people using their brain in a more healthier and balanced way. I wrote more healthy foods for your brain here, http://www.weightlossdose.com/health/well-being/food-makes-us-smarter/ Hope they can help out other folks! :)
4th Feb, 2014
Thank you for a very interesting and informative article on brain power.


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