Foods that improve memory

Certain ingredients can boost memory function. Read the BBC Good Food guide to brain food and improve cognitive function through diet, plus discover 11 memory-boosting recipes. 

Outline sketch of head with brain made up of food

The gut and the brain are intrinsically linked, therefore everything we eat or drink can influence our brain, either positively or negatively. Our digestive system is responsible for not only providing the body and the brain with key nutrients from food and drink, but it also produces key hormones that enter the brain, or are produced in the brain, that have an impact on our memory and cognitive function.

Certain foods contain specific key nutrients that the brain needs to ensure that our memory, both short-term and long-term, remains in tip-top condition. These include antioxidants, good fats, and certain vitamins and minerals that not only provide energy but also protection for the brain, and so by feeding the gut we are in fact feeding the mind.

Every day, the body is ‘exposed’ to free radicals that can come from internal sources, such as stress or poor diet, or external sources, such as cigarette smoke and pollution. The body needs antioxidants to protect the cells in the brain from the free radicals and the subsequent damage they can cause to our cells and our health. Antioxidants, especially flavonoids and vitamin E, appear to be particularly beneficial when it comes to brain health.

Bowl of nuts with a pair of spectaclesGood fats, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, have been found to promote electrical signalling between nerve cells, allowing the brain to communicate quickly and easily. It’s also thought that they may help improve mental concentration and memory.

Some of the B vitamins, such as B12, B6 and folate (B9), have also shown memory-boosting benefits, as well as vitamin K of which some of the highest concentrations have been found in the brain, making it a key nutrient for brain function and memory.

Foods thought to boost memory function

The British Journal of Nutrition found that consuming certain fruits that are rich in flavonoids as part of a healthy diet may have positive effects on our memory. These include:

Berries
Apples
Citrus

Close up shot of blueberries
Blueberries in particular appear to have memory-enhancing properties thanks to their flavonoids known as anthocyanins, which are also what give blueberries their colour. They are present in foods that are red, blue or purple.

Peppermint tea is thought to improve both long-term memory and working memory, according to a study by Northumbria University

Herbs in a jar
The smell of rosemary can significantly improve prospective memory, which is our ability to remember to do something. This was found to be particularly beneficial to exam students in improving test results, as well as those over 65-years old. Read more about the healing power of herbs.

There is also some evidence that soya can improve both long-term and short-term memory.

Foods that contain medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) may also have added benefits to our memory. They include:

Whole milk
Butter
Full-fat yogurt
Coconut oil

Boiled eggs on plate with soldiers
Foods rich in B vitamins are important as they provide protection for the brain as we age and support good memory function. These include:

Mackerel
Eggs
Spinach
Chicken  
Bananas 

Omega-3 rich foods include oily fish. Try eating more of the following: 

Salmon
Mackerel  
Sardines
Anchovies

Chia seeds laid out on wooden board
Certain nuts and seeds are high in omega-3. These include: 

Linseed
Walnuts
Chia seeds

Studies suggest munching on a few walnuts a day could improve memory and cognition speed.

When it comes to all-important vitamin K, green vegetables are one of your main sources:

Kale
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Broccoli 

11 recipes made with memory-boosting ingredients

Mackerel on a plate with salad

Porridge with blueberry compote
Chicken & avocado salad with blueberry balsamic dressing
Grilled mackerel with orange, chilli & watercress salad
Rosemary & lemon roast chicken
Rosemary & garlicky lentils
Asian tofu with stir-fried noodles, pak choi & sugar snap peas
Cinnamon porridge with banana & berries
Tomato baked eggs
Asparagus salad with a runny poached egg
Spaghetti with spinach & walnut pesto
Chicken, kale & sprout stir-fry

More on food and the brain

Brain-boosting recipes
How to eat for exams
10 foods to boost your brainpower


This article was published on 1st June 2017.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

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 healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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