9 brain-boosting foods to improve your cognitive function

Learning, thinking, problem solving, decision making, and the ability to pay attention all fall under a term called cognitive function. Unfortunately, about two out of three Americans suffer from cognitive impairment, at an average age of 70. And while age is the biggest risk factor for experiencing cognitive decline, other risk factors include family history, education level, brain injury, physical inactivity, and chronic conditions like Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and stroke, and diabetes. But believe it or not, the foods you eat—”brain foods,” if you will—can impact your cognitive health, too.

Studies show that the foods we include in our diets play a vital role in supporting brain function, memory retention, and overall cognitive well-being. Overall, evidence finds that low-fat diets appear to be protective against cognitive decline, as does following dietary patterns that include the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets.

If you’re looking for specific foods to include in your overall healthy diet to support your cognitive health, look no further than this list of 9 brain-boosting foods. Each item offers unique cognitive health benefits, and they’re delicious to boot! Read on, and to learn more, don’t miss 6 Worst Drinks for Brain Health.

open the egg carton
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Eggs are a natural source of nutrients that support brain health, including choline (150 milligrams per large egg) and lutein and zeaxanthin (252 micrograms per large egg).

The choline in eggs helps support lifelong brain health at every age and stage, including memory, thinking, mood and more. Unfortunately, approximately 90% of Americans do not reach the recommended choline intake, and intake declines after age 50 with only 4% of adults age 71 and older achieving adequate choline intake. Eggs are one of the few choline-rich foods and can help Americans meet the recommended daily allowance.

Lutein has long been associated with eye health, but research has found that lutein may play an important role in cognition as well. Similar to how lutein accumulates in the eyes, it is also present in the brain and has been positively associated with improved cognitive function in the elderly and academic achievement in children.

Routine egg intake has been associated with improved cognitive performance in adults, perhaps, in part, due to the brain-health-supporting nutrients it provides. It’s important to remember to eat the yolk, as this is where both choline and lutein are found.

Yes, you can (and should) eat the yolk! According to the American Heart Association, healthy individuals can include up to one whole egg or its equivalent per day as part of a heart-healthy dietary pattern. For older people with healthy cholesterol levels, given the nutritional benefits and convenience of eggs, consuming up to two eggs per day is acceptable as part of a heart-healthy dietary pattern. And vegetarians can include even more eggs in their diet in the context of moderation.

RELATED: 4 Surprising Effects of Consuming Egg Yolks

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The glorious mushroom is so much more than a sub of meat in a vegan burger. These amazing mushrooms are the top sources of ergothioneine in the produce department.

Ergothioneine is an amino acid that functions as an antioxidant. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of ergothioneine make it an important bioactive compound that may contribute to healthy aging, cognitive benefits, and stress reduction when part of a healthy lifestyle and eating habits.

Researchers published in British Journal of Nutrition positioned ergothioneine as a “vitamin of longevity” suggesting that this vegetable could be an important source of this nutrient to support healthy aging and cognitive benefits.

While all mushrooms contain ergothioneine, some varieties contain more than others. Shiitake, oyster and maitake mushrooms have the highest amount of ergothioneine compared to other varieties.

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Walnuts are the only tree nut that’s a good source of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which is why they’re one of the best foods for brain health. And consuming these nuts rich in this healthy fat may fight oxidative stress and inflammation, two factors in cognitive decline.

According to findings from The Walnuts And Healthy Aging Study, a randomized controlled trial evaluating the effects of consuming 30-60 grams of walnuts per day for 2 years, daily walnut consumption could delay cognitive decline among people at highest risk.

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Did you know that there are different varieties of blueberries? Of the choices out there, wild blueberries may offer unique benefits for your cognitive health.

While conventional blueberries are a welcome addition to a diet to support brain health, wild blueberries have specifically been shown to help seniors with slower cognitive processing speeds think faster according to the results of a study published in Nutritional neuroscience. In this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, those who consumed wild blueberry powder daily for 6 months improved processing speed, with those aged 75 to 80 experiencing the most noticeable improvement.

RELATED: 7 Benefits of Blueberries Backed by Science

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There are four types of tea that are classified as true teas: black, oolong, green, and white. Data has shown that real tea consumption can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.

According to a meta-analysis of 17 studies evaluating the association between actual tea consumption and the risk of cognitive impairment, findings showed that high tea intake was linked to a reduced risk of cognitive impairment. Some evidence suggests that drinking 100 milliliters (less than half a cup) of tea a day may offer a 6% reduced risk of cognitive impairment, and 500 milliliters (just over 2 cups) a day may offer a whopping 29% reduced risk.

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The omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is important for proper brain development and cognition. This unique fat is concentrated in the brain and plays an important role in brain functioning. Cold-water oily fish, such as salmon, are known to be a source of DHA omega-3 fatty acids, making them potent brain foods. But fish is so much more than a source of healthy fats.

As a natural source of protein, selenium, choline and iodine (and, of course, DHA omega-3 fatty acids), fish like salmon are a real boon for those focused on brain health. Data published in Nutrition shows that non-fried seafood intake is associated with improved cognitive performance in psychomotor speed among US adults, particularly those who are overweight or obese.

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Oranges contain a number of nutrients and plant compounds that may play a positive role in cognitive health when included in a balanced diet, including vitamin C, thiamin, vitamin B6 and hesperidin.

A clinical study in healthy elderly people published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that adults who consumed 100% orange juice every day for 8 weeks, made from squeezed oranges, scored better on combined tests for global cognitive function than the control group. And another study showed that the inclusion of citrus fruits and orange juice was associated with better performance on certain cognitive tests, among older adults who were evaluated.

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Including leafy green vegetables, such as watercress and spinach, may help slow cognitive decline among the elderly population. Some evidence suggests this may be due to the nutrients these foods contain, including lutein, folate, and beta-carotene. According to a study published in Nutrientsincluding a daily serving of leafy greens in a diet can help support brain health.

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Red and pink fleshed watermelon is a source of many nutrients that support brain health, including a carotenoid called lycopene. This plant compound, responsible for giving the red-pink watermelon that beautiful hue, has neuroprotective properties thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functionality.

According to the results of a systematic review of the literature published in Journal of Nutritional Sciences, available data show a significant positive relationship between lycopene consumption and the maintenance of cognition. There is also data showing a significant association between lower circulation of lycopene and higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease mortality.

Note that while red/pink watermelon varieties contain impressive amounts of lycopene, yellow and orange watermelon varieties have other important compounds that may support cognitive health as well. For example, yellow watermelon is a richer source of beta-carotene than pink-red varieties. And beta carotene intake is linked to positive effects on cognitive decline among older adults.

RELATED: Is watermelon good for you? 15 science-backed effects of eating it

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