Smart Foods

Processed foods aren't going to help your brain, but we've rounded up a list that will. 

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Want to improve your grades? Eating these foods can give your brain a boost!


These berries are jam-packed with antioxidants known as polyphenols. “Antioxidants go after things that damage your cells, and those are called free radicals,” says Joy Dubost, a registered dietitian from Arlington, Virginia, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). “Antioxidants gobble up those free radicals so they don’t damage your brain.”

Foods rich in polyphenols can reduce brain inflammation, helping improve communication between cells in the brain. In turn, this improves our ability to soak up new information and may reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia.

Alternatives: Grape juice, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries are all rich in polyphenols.


Known for adding flavor to foods, onions also add flavonoids—a category of antioxidant—to our bodies. “Onions are one of the leading sources of quercetin. That’s an antioxidant that helps keep your mental juices flowing by protecting your brain cells,” says Heather Mangieri, a registered dietitian from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a spokeswoman for the ADA. Recent studies have shown that daily consumption of onions may result in increased accumulation of quercetin in the blood. This may protect the brain from neurodegenerative disorders, which are serious ailments that affect cells in the body’s nervous system. Examples of such disorders are Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s diseases.

Alternatives: Tea and apples (be sure to eat the skin) are also excellent sources of quercetin.

Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and seeds are good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E. “Nuts and seeds have not been specifically studied for the effect on cognition or memory, but we know that [consumption of] vitamin E is associated with less cognitive decline as you age,” Mangieri says. Cognitive refers to the thinking, reasoning, and memory functions of the brain.

Vitamin E nourishes your brain in many ways, such as by helping your body carry oxygen to your brain. So each day, grab a handful of walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, or pumpkin seeds for some brain-boosting benefits.

Alternatives: Peanut butter, almond butter, spinach, and other leafy greens are also high in vitamin E.


Oily fish—such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and trout—are full of omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike saturated fats, these fats are good for you. They are thought to reduce inflammation, or swelling, throughout the body. “As you age, inflammation plays a big part in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s,” Dubost says. “So if anything can be done to counteract that, it will help provide protection for your cells.”

Alternatives: If you don’t like to eat fish, other options are walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil, and omega-3-enriched eggs.


Turmeric is one of the main spices in curry powder. It’s rich in a compound known as curcumin, which is believed to inhibit Alzheimer’s disease. Countries where curry is regularly consumed, such as India, have been noted for having lower rates of dementia. “Studies have shown that curcumin slows the formation of plaque in the brain, which is basically the route of Alzheimer’s disease,” Dubost says. Curcumin has also been shown to reduce inflammation in brain tissue.

Alternative: The spice ginger also contains anti-inflammatory properties.

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