We may not all aspire to be Nobel Prize winners or graduate from Harvard with a 4.0 GPA, but we can all agree that we want to at least not sound dumb at our next dinner party or job interview.
The brain is arguably the most important organ in the body, and we all could probably do a better job of nourishing our brains.
So we’ve done a deep dive into the research to help you make smarter choices in the grocery store to keep that medulla oblongata strong (or at least to add some fancy-pants new words like “medulla oblongata” to your vocab).
Let’s be real. You didn’t need a listicle to tell you that your brain LOVES coffee. But we’re excited to tell you that science agrees.
Coffee is rich in antioxidants like the neuroprotective compound phenylindane, which forms during roasting and gives coffee its characteristic bitter bite.
While human research in this area has been conflicting at times, one systematic review of the literature found numerous studies suggesting that lifelong consumption of coffee and other caffeinated bevvies was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. The effect was found to be stronger in women than in men.
But before you hit up your local barista for the third time today, know that the research suggests there’s a sweet spot for caffeine’s effect.
One study found that one to two cups of coffee a day over a 3.5-year period reduced the rate of mild cognitive impairment, while more than two cups of coffee a day or a sudden increase in coffee intake may increase the risk.
Next time you get a pang of doubt about taking that second serving of chocolate cake, remember this: According to the New England Journal of Medicine, places where chocolate consumption is highest have the most Nobel Prize recipients in the world. We REALLY like that fact.
But seriously, it’s not that surprising when you consider that the flavanols in dark chocolate and cocoa have known anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which research has found to help enhance cognitive performance and function.
In one 2018 study, healthy participants given 28 grams (1 ounce) of 70 percent cacao chocolate saw an increase in brain activity related to cognition and memory, suggesting that dark chocolate enhances neuroplasticity and brain health.
Just make sure to stick to a high-quality dark chocolate and enjoy it au naturel, without added sugar or fat.
About 60 percent of your brain is made up of fat, and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may play a unique role. One 2018 systematic review found that omega-3 supplementation appears to boost brain health and protect against neurodegeneration in older adults.
Another study found that consuming more fish, independent of omega-3 content, seemed to improve the volume of gray matter, the area of the brain responsible for muscle control, emotions, decision-making, memory, and more.
Not a fan of salmon? Try other fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, or herring, or go plant-based with flax, chia, or walnuts, though the benefits are much less in the plant sources due to reduced absorption and metabolism.
Pass those sweet blue morsels for brain health, baby! Berries, especially blueberries, are rich in anthocyanins and other flavonoids that have been shown to help support memory function.
One 2018 study tracked a large group of men over 20 years and found that long-term fruit consumption was linked to a reduced risk of late-life cognitive decline.
Blueberries not in season? No problem. Blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and other deeply hued fruits are all fair game.