April 6, 2021

Brain Food: Essential Nutrients for Brain Health and Memory

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We all know nutrition is important for maintaining a healthy waistline. But what about our brains? How can we keep our body’s control center in tip-top shape? 

One word: nutrition.

Just like the rest of our body, the brain requires certain nutrients to perform optimally. Older adults who eat nutritious foods can significantly lower their risk of cognitive decline. Here are some of the most vital nutrients for a healthy brain and the foods in which you can find them.

Vitamin E

The first nutrient in your line of defense against mental decline is vitamin E. Research shows that a diet rich in vitamin E boosts memory function and lowers one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This important antioxidant also protects our cells from damage, which contributes to healthier skin and eyes.

Good sources of vitamin E include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocados
  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Asparagus
  • Red bell peppers
  • Olives
  • Tofu
  • Eggs 
  • Brown rice
  • Sunflower, safflower, and soybean oils

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

We have some good news for seafood lovers: Regular consumption of salmon and other cold-water fish has been shown to slow cognitive degeneration. Why? These oily fish are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for electrical communication between nerve cells in the brain. As we age, these nerve cells shrink, and the communication between them suffers. Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to combat this process, improving mental concentration and fighting memory loss.

Unfortunately, our bodies can’t produce this key nutrient on their own, so we must rely on food sources to get them. Improve your memory and ward off dementia by adding fish to your weekly rotation. Aim for 2–3 servings per week and avoid fish with high levels of mercury. Not a seafood fan? Ask your healthcare provider about taking an omega-3 supplement. 

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include: 

  • Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, trout, and halibut
  • Walnuts
  • Flax, chia, and hemp seeds
  • Flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, and chia seed oil

Vitamin K

To keep your brain in peak condition, try incorporating more vitamin K into your diet. There is ample evidence that this fat-soluble vitamin is linked to heightened memory power. It also appears to support bone health, lowering the risk of bone fractures and preventing osteoporosis.

Good sources of vitamin K include:

  • Leafy greens like spinach, collards, swiss chard, and kale
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Green beans
  • Prunes
  • Basil and parsley 
  • Beef liver

B Vitamins

B vitamins play a crucial role in healthy brain function. Not only does this group of vitamins strengthen your memory, but they also minimize anxiety, depression, and stress. Studies have demonstrated that low levels of vitamin B12 are associated with rapid cognitive decline. Plus, there’s evidence that these vitamins boost energy levels, which is more than enough of a reason to stock your crisper drawer with some nutritious leafy greens.

Good sources of B vitamins include:

  • Greens such as kale and spinach
  • Broccoli 
  • Cauliflower
  • Beans and legumes


Radiant red tomatoes are brilliant to look at (and delicious to eat!), but did you know their rich pigment also supports brain health? Lycopene—the carotenoid that gives color to many fruits and vegetables—is known to protect against dementia. One study revealed that older people with higher levels of lycopene in their blood had improved cognitive function. This anti-inflammatory antioxidant is also linked to better eyesight and healthier blood vessels, and it may lower one’s risk of breast cancer. Lycopene even protects against sunburn!

Good sources of lycopene include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Bell peppers
  • Red carrots
  • Sweet potatoes 


Zinc is another powerful antioxidant that can help ward off dementia. Evidence suggests zinc may play a role in the communication between neurons, especially in the region of the brain where learning and memory formation take place. The mineral is also said to bolster the immune system and protect our vision. Of course, too much of a good thing can spell trouble. Over-supplementing with zinc can weaken the immune system and cause fatigue. 

Good sources of zinc include:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Potatoes
  • Lamb
  • Seafood
  • Dark chocolate


When you consider that roughly 75% of our brain weight is made up of water, the importance of this refreshing nutrient is clear. Researchers have found that even mild dehydration can be detrimental to brain health. Low water intake impairs your mood, concentration, and brain performance. 

It seems simple enough, but the truth is most of us aren’t drinking nearly enough water. To drink more, throw back a glass before every meal, jazz up your H20 with some fruit slices or mint leaves, or use a straw for easy access. 

Give your health a boost with these water-rich foods:

  • Watermelon
  • Lettuce
  • Pineapple
  • Cucumber 
  • Celery 
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew
  • Zucchini 
  • Cabbage

Provision Living Makes Healthy Eating a Priority 

Good nutrition is key to a healthy brain. At Provision Living, our community dining plans make healthy eating a breeze. Schedule a visit to one of our communities and witness the difference yourself.

Please note that this article serves for educational purposes only and does not substitute as medical advice. If you have any questions about the health of you or your loved one, please consult with a qualified medical professional. 

Image credit: istockphoto.com