Foods for Brain Health

Brain shaped with fresh vegetables

Image: TijanaM/Shutterstock

By: Griseida Ruiz, DTR, CSUN Dietetic Intern

Our brain is one of the hardest working organs in our body. It is “on” every moment of the day, taking care of our thoughts, movements, breathing, and heartbeat. Until recently, it was believed that food could not influence the brain structure and its cognitive, intellectual and mental functions.1 However, new research has proven otherwise. While we experience a noticeable decline in our brain function with age, there is a lot we can do to prevent disease, protect it from oxidative damage and hinder the premature aging process. In the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death with over 5.7 million Americans living with it and that number expected to increase to 14 million by the year 2050.2 These statistics are alarming and although the amounts do not look promising, we each have the ability to do something to improve them. Eating foods high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants will ensure we do just that!

In 2015 researchers created the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, which they believed could potentially delay neurodegenerative decline based on previous studies.3 The MIND diet combines the Mediterranean diet with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and incorporates a slight caloric restriction.4 This diet is helpful in providing guidance to safeguard proper cognitive boosting foods in order to enhance brain health. The diet specifically mentions 10 healthy foods to eat and 5 to avoid.

Here are a few foods you can begin incorporating into your diet to improve memory, focus, and mood with the guidelines in “MIND”:

  1. Whole Grains – 3 servings per day. Examples: brown rice, quinoa, 100% whole wheat bread and pasta, oatmeal, barley, and buckwheat.
  2. Green Leafy Vegetables – 6 or more servings per week. Examples: romaine, kale, collard greens, cabbage, spinach, and swiss chard.
  3. Other Vegetables – 1 additional serving per day. Examples: celery, asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and zucchini.
  4. Berries – 2 servings per week. Examples: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
  5. Nuts – 5 or more servings per week. Examples: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, and pine nuts.
  6. Olive oil as the main cooking oil.
  7. Fish – 1 serving per week. Examples: salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and mackerel.
  8. Beans – 4 servings per week. Examples: all beans, lentils and soybeans.
  9. Poultry – 2 servings per week. Fried is not recommended.
  10. No more than 1 glass of wine daily. Either red or white, however, red wine contains resveratrol, which has been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s disease.3

The following foods should be avoided on this diet:

  1. Butter and Margarine – less than 1 pat per day.
  2. Cheese –  less than 1 ounce serving per week.
  3. Fried Foods – less than 1 serving per week.
  4. Sweets and Pastries – less than 5 servings per week.
  5. Red/Processed Meats -less than 4 servings per week.4

What does this mean for you?

Following the MIND diet guidelines will decrease your risk of developing cognitive decline prematurely and essentially assist you in staving off Alzheimer’s and dementia. According to Morris et al.’s prospective study of 923 participants, they found that a high adherence to the MIND diet resulted in a statistically significant reduction in Alzheimer’s disease risk. Moderate adherence was also effective in decreasing the risk.5

How Can I Learn More?

Interested in how you can improve your brain health, but aren’t exactly sure where to start? If you are a CSUN student, you are eligible for FREE nutrition counseling at the KLOTZ Student Health Center and Oasis Wellness Center. Not a CSUN student? You can schedule an appointment for nutrition counseling with a Registered Dietitian at The Marilyn Magaram Center.


  1. Turner J. Your brain on food: A nutrient rich diet can protect cognitive health. Journal of the American Society on Aging. 2011;35(2),99-106.
  2. The End of Alzheimer’s Starts with YOU. Published 2018. Accessed November 4, 2018.
  3. Ellis EL. Can diet prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Food for thought. Food and Nutrition Magazine. 2018; 6: 22-23. Available at: Accessed November 5, 2018.
  4. MIND diet for better brain aging. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. 2018; 36(4), 1-7.
  5. Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, et al. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. 2015;11(9), 1007-1014.

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