✓ Evidence Based

9 Foods That Improve Memory & Brain function

To have a strong memory, you need a healthy brain. How can you get a healthy brain? One way is to make sure to include plenty of brain foods in your diet. There’s a wide range of memory-boosting foods available, so you’re sure to be able to enjoy a bunch. Humans require an abundance of nutrients to think clearly and process emotions (1). These include foods ranging from vitamins A, zinc, B vitamins, and much more.

It’s been widely studied that nutrients can enhance cognitive function. Low glycemic foods are one of the largest groups of food proven to improve memory and attention. When the body is deprived of the necessary nutrition found in vegetables, fruits, and protein, it can lead to dramatic cognitive decline (2). If your diet is too heavy in refined carbohydrates and sugar, it can also contribute to poor memory and brain function.

Foods that Improve Memory

Check out the list below to see how you can contribute more brain-boosting foods into your diet, improve your memory, concentration, and even functional capacity overall.

1. Many Kinds of Fish

The reason fish, in general, is a good brain food is because of the presence of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids have long been shown to improve cognition and especially memory. Fish high in omega 3s have the power to decrease inflammation in the brain, which leads to poor memory (3).

However, although all fish contain omega 3 fatty acids, not all fish are created equal. The fish highest in omega 3 fatty acids and most likely to give you a brain boost are sardines, mackerel, anchovies, herring, caviar, oysters, and salmon(4). These types of fish also tend to be the healthiest because they are cold water, smaller fish. That means they have overall lower mercury than popular fish like shrimp, tuna, and lobster. All fish can be included as a part of a healthy diet, but opt for smaller cold-water fish for a memory boost.

Summary: Omega 3 fatty acids improve both cognition and memory. Smaller, cold-water fish such as sardines, mackerel, anchovies, herring, caviar, oysters, and salmon are the highest sources of omega 3 fatty acids.

2. Chia, Flaxseed, and Pumpkin Seeds

These popular seeds are also packed with beneficial brain-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Chia and flax seeds have a wide range of nutrients as well. Combined, their nutrient background includes protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron and more (5). These are also extremely easy to eat at any time of the day.

You can simply throw them into your cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, and even meals like pasta, hearty salads, and tacos. They both have barely any taste, especially when combined with meals heavy in flavor. There are some precautions to take in regards to flaxseed. If you have a history of low blood pressure, it’s best to avoid flaxseed as they have been proven to lower blood pressure (6). Also, flaxseed has a powerful effect on the hormone estrogen. Women who are estrogen dominant are often recommended to incorporate more flaxseed into their diets (7).

Summary: Chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds are packed with brain-boosting omega 3 fatty acids. They are also great sources of protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and iron, and can be easily added to oatmeal, smoothies, pasta, or salads.

3. Avocado

Adding brain-healthy foods doesn’t have to be dull or boring. Incorporate some of this versatile fruit into your life to get in an extra boost of memory. In a study done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), avocados were shown to have dramatic benefits for the brain health of pregnant rats as well as their offspring (8). There was promise shown through postnatal development, and the working memory during the youth and even adult phases.

 

Avocado has extremely high levels of neuroprotective Phyto complex, which acts as a potent brain stimulator(9) . There is a large research base regarding avocados and brain health. Add in some avocado to any meal to get a healthy dose of fat and cognitive enhancement. Throw some avocado into your favorite meals all by itself with a little salt and pepper and you’re set.

Summary: Avocado is extremely high in neuroprotective Phyto complex, which acts as a potent brain stimulator, that boosts memory and enhances cognitive health. A daily dose of avocado is very healthy for the brain and can be enjoyed in your favorite dishes.

4. Walnuts

Walnuts are another food that is extremely high in omega 3 fatty acids. Many studies have proven walnuts to be a powerful brain stimulant and directly showed the benefit it has on working memory (1). Studies have even shown that it could have some effect on memory or brain activity that is already in decline. In one study, these included Parkinson’s disease, depression, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes (10).

Walnuts have significantly shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain. There was another study done on aged rats that proved walnuts slowed brain regression as well (11). The fact that many animal and human trials have been tested and gave the same results proves the memory power walnuts can have.

Summary: Walnuts are very powerful when it comes to memory improvement and enhancement. Their extremely high omega-3 fatty acid content helps to improve memory, slow memory and brain activity decline, and improve brain oxidative stress and inflammation.

5. Blueberries

Blueberries have been shown to improve neuroinflammation in many rat studies (12). Other studies have even proven that blueberries may have a powerful effect on concentration and mood as well. Wild blueberries have also shown promise in human studies when seven to ten-year-old students were examined. In the study, the students not only improved their memory but their attention span as well (12). Wild blueberries are even easier to keep around the house. They usually only come frozen and are very tiny. You can easily sneak them into dishes for the pickiest of eaters.

Blueberries are extremely easy to add to your diet. Keep them around longer by freezing them and enjoying them in smoothies, oatmeal, pancakes, and more.

Summary: Blueberries have a powerful effect on concentration and mood. Wild blueberries have specifically shown to improve memory and attention span. Adding a daily dose of frozen or fresh blueberries is highly beneficial for brain health and function.

6. Dark Chocolate and Cacao

Chocolate lovers unite. Dark chocolate may be your new go-to snack if it’s not already. Try to buy dark chocolate that’s at least 70% dark or higher for the best memory-boosting effects (13). Many milk chocolates, unfortunately, may not have the same effect as dark chocolate or cacao. This is because milk chocolate often comes with excess fillers, high sugar content, and less pure cacao (14).

Cacao and dark chocolate have been proven to slow age-related memory decline in several studies (15). Grab your favorite dark chocolate bar and rejoice in the memory reprieve you can have. Dark chocolate has long been a popular superfood and it’s even high in iron to boot.

Summary: 70% or higher dark chocolate or cacao can slow memory decline as we age. This superfood is also high in iron and other nutrients, and can be enjoyed as a memory-boosting snack.

7. Red Wine

Healthy foods don’t always have to be dressed up in green or make you sad. Red wine has been shown to mitigate the cognitive decline, too (16). Red wine has tons of antioxidants and plant compounds that work aggressively at helping your brain soar. These antioxidants fight inflammation, blood clots, and can even reduce your chances of cancer (17).

But before you polish off a bottle, there are a few things you should know. Red wine like any alcohol is only beneficial in moderation. Typically, it’s best to have no more than one to two glasses a night to reap the memory-enhancing benefits (18).

Summary: In moderation, red wine provides a healthy dose of antioxidants and plant compounds that work together to enhance memory and boost cognitive health. One to two glasses a night is a perfect dose to reap the benefits.

8. Turmeric

Turmeric is a classic Indian spice that has been used for decades in cooking and herbalism. You may notice turmeric popping up lately in lattes, recipes, and even snacks. This is for good reason. Many people are waking up to the power this powerful spice can have on decreasing inflammation in the body (19). Indian cultures have known this for centuries, as turmeric is a staple spice in most kitchens there.

Luckily, turmeric is also easy to add to most meals and the flavor isn’t too potent to overpower much. It goes great in a healthy tofu stir fry or even a tofu “egg” scramble if you want to skip the eggs or you can even eat both together. Turmeric lattes are also soothing tea to make yourself. All you need is turmeric powder, cinnamon, your milk of choice, and a stove or microwave.

Summary: Turmeric is a powerful Indian spice known to reduce inflammation in the body. Adding 1-3 teaspoons of this tasty spice to stir fry, egg scrambles, or even sipped in a latte can help boost brain power and memory.

9. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is filled with tons of healthy fats that are super beneficial for brain health, and memory is no stranger to that (20). It’s a myth that all saturated fat is bad for your health. Coconut may not be the best option for those who can’t tolerate saturated fat in their diet, but it can be extremely helpful to those who have no contraindication. One study even found that it showed memory improvement in those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (21).

You can add in coconut oil to smoothies and even your morning coffee. Try to switch up your cooking oil to coconut oil more often to get the benefits more readily. It’s a great choice alongside avocado oil for high cooking temperatures. Try to stay away from olive oil when cooking at high heat.

Summary: Healthy fats from coconut oil can improve memory, even for those with memory impairment. High in saturated fats, it is best suited for those who can tolerate high saturated fat diets. Use in place of other cooking oils and add to smoothies or coffee for a brain boost.

Conclusion

There are many foods you can start to include to improve brain health and specifically memory. However, better memory and cognitive function are more than just the foods we eat.

Regular exercise, a healthy social life, and a properly balanced way of life are important to keep your brain healthy, improve concentration, and keep a functioning working memory.

HealthNormal

Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, and written, fact-checked & medically reviewed by health experts.

Throughout this article, you'll find scientific references (clickable links to highly trusted peer-reviewed scientific papers, links denoted by the numbers in the parentheses (1, 2, 3)).