Boosting Brain Health

By: Laura Ritacco, RDN – Gleaners Nutrition Education Team

Disclaimer: The following content is for informational and educational purposes only and should not substitute the advice of your medical professional. Always consult your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for individual medical care.

Did you know that the brain is the body’s command center? This 3-pound organ is made up of about 100 billion brain cells (called neurons) and controls thought, memory, emotion, motor skills, breathing, and many other vital processes that regulate our body.1,2 Your brain is always active, even during sleep, and can generate up to 23 watts of power—enough to light a bulb.3 Talk about a powerhouse!

We may not always be conscious of the number of tasks our brain carries out daily, but this June, in observance of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, we take a moment to honor our brains and focus on foods that support its health.

The following is a selection of foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals that provide compounds called antioxidants. Antioxidants have been shown to protect against cognitive decline and reduce inflammation, which can cause harm to the body’s tissues. Along with including some of these foods into your meals, you can also support brain health by engaging in physical activities that are best suited to your needs, getting adequate and restful sleep, practicing stress-reducing techniques (such as meditation), and drinking enough water.

Fatty Fish:
About 60% of brain weight is made up of different types of fat.4 Our bodies are unable to produce some fats on their own, so we must get them from the foods we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that offer protective benefits to our brain cells. To get those benefits, the American Heart Association and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend incorporating 3-oz of fatty fish into your meals two times per week.5,6

  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Atlantic or Pacific mackerel
  • Lake trout

For those who cannot, or choose not to eat fish, you can still get the advantages of omega-3’s from the following foods:6

  • Walnuts
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Eggs from chickens that were given feed high in omega-3’s (check the package)
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil

Dark Green Vegetables:

Dark green vegetables are rich in nutrients, like vitamins E, K, and folate (B9).7 These vitamins support many functions in the body, including protection for our brain cells. To harness the power of these antioxidant-rich greens, try incorporating the following ingredients into your favorite soup/stew, omelet, or stir fry recipes! As a reminder, canned and frozen versions can also be nutritious options- select canned and frozen products that are low in sodium if available, or use the rinsing and draining technique.

  • Collard greens
  • Broccoli
  • Bok Choy
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Brussel sprouts


Berries are small, but mighty fruits that are packed with antioxidants to fight off inflammation. Because each berry variety contains different amounts and types of antioxidants, eating a blend of berries in your meal or throughout the week can provide the most benefits. Use fresh, canned, or frozen berries that contain little to no added sugars and include them in smoothies, muffins, or on top of your favorite yogurt!

  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Cranberries
  • Raspberries

Dark Chocolate:

Who doesn’t love a sweet treat that also has health benefits? Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants and can be incorporated into a healthy meal pattern. Try swapping milk or white chocolate for 70% (or a higher percentage) dark chocolate to get the full benefits. Look for dark chocolate that does not have sugar listed as the first ingredient, and added sugars that are ideally 5% or less of the Daily Value per serving. The recommended serving of dark chocolate is 1-1.5 ounces per day—about the size of your knuckle to the tip of your thumb.7 Enjoy!

Our brains are amazing organs that constantly work around the clock to help us learn, form memories, emotions, move, and breath. This month, in recognition of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness,we take time to focus on ways to care for our brains by providing nourishment and energy. Incorporating the highlighted foods into a dietary pattern that also focuses on eating adequate amounts of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products/dairy alternatives can boost protection from inflammation and cell damage and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

For more information on building a healthful dietary pattern, visit: MyPlate | U.S. Department of Agriculture.


  1. Brain Anatomy and How the Brain Works | Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 5/13/24.
  2. In brief: How does the brain work? – – NCBI Bookshelf ( Accessed 5/13/24.
  3. 11 Fun Facts About Your Brain | Northwestern Medicine. Accessed 5/13/24.
  4. Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review – PMC ( Accessed 5/13/24.
  5. Consuming about 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day may lower blood pressure | American Heart Association. Accessed 5/13/24.
  6. Choose Healthy Fats ( Accessed 5/13/24.
  7. PA Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics – Food for Your Brain Health ( Accessed 5/13/24.
  8. Berry Good for Your Heart | Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 5/16/24.