There are several superfoods that improve cognitive function and prevent symptoms of depression, according to researchers and experts. Superfoods like dark chocolate can increase cognitive function and help prevent depression. Leafy greens help slow cognitive decline.

Let’s take a look at five superfoods and the mental health and brain health benefits experts say they offer.

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1. Kale and leafy greens can slow cognitive decline

Dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard are beneficial to brain health and can help slow down cognitive decline. A daily serving of dark, leafy greens can boost cognitive functions, which includes memory, mental response time, decision making processes and even mood.

A 2018 study, published in the journal Neurology, found a link between individuals who ate one daily serving of green leafy vegetables and slower cognitive decline in skills like memory.

Researchers followed a group of nearly one thousand dementia-free older adults for an average of five years. They found that those who ate at least one daily serving of leafy green vegetables were about 11 years younger cognitively than those who rarely or never ate dark leafy greens.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” said Martha Morris, the senior author of the study who studies nutrition and brain health at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, per the Los Angeles Times. “Eating these leafy greens was independently associated with slower cognitive decline. That tells you this single food group contains so many nutrients it could be brain-protective.”

2. Dark chocolate can prevent depressive symptoms

Dark chocolate is usually considered a treat, but it actually has loads of health benefits. It is packed with fiber, iron, magnesium and antioxidants. Dark chocolate can also improve brain function.

A 2020 study found that eating high flavanol cocoa (70% dark chocolate or higher) can increase cognitive function and neuroplasticity in young adults. Dark chocolate could also be considered a preventative to neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline.

“Short and middle-term effects of daily cocoa intake may provide young adults with a better cognitive performance in verbal learning, memory, and attention favoring academic achievement,” reports the study.

Dark chocolate is also associated with positive effects on mood and mental health. A 2019 study from the University College in London found that individuals who ate dark chocolate had far lower odds of reporting depressive symptoms than those who ate no chocolate at all. The same impact was not found for milk chocolate, per the American Psychiatric Association.

3. Fish are rich with omega-3 fatty acids

Fish such as salmon, tuna, trout and anchovies are rich with omega-3 fatty acids, which provide several benefits to the body including improved brain health.

According to a recent study published in the journal Neurology, middle-aged adults with diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids had larger hippocampal volumes — the hippocampus part of the brain plays a vital role in memory and learning. These adults were more equipped to understand complex concepts.

4. Eating nuts can lower depression risk

Eating a handful of nuts every day is linked to a lower risk of depression. A recent study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that consuming a handful of nuts daily is linked to a 17% lower risk of depression.

Researchers found that middle-aged and older adult who ate 30 grams of nuts — almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews, Brazil nuts — were less likely to take antidepressants or develop depression.

A daily dose of nuts is also associated with a positive impact on memory and brain health. Eating 60 grams of nuts per day (about 12 cup of almonds) increased verbal memory and blood flow to the brain, according to a 2023 study.

5. Berries improve brain function

Berries such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are packed with flavonoids, which are known to help improve memory and slow age-related cognitive decline, reports Scientific American.

“Adding a handful of berries to the diet each day is one of the first and easiest changes I recommend to those looking to improve their brain health,” Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told the American Association of Retired Persons.

Research from King’s College London found that just a handful of wild blueberries a day could improve brain function. Over the course of 12 weeks, researchers found that individuals who consumed wild blueberry powder experienced improved memory and more accuracy on attention tasks.

“It’s clear from this study that consuming wild blueberries is beneficial to cognitive function,” said professor Claire Williams, chair of the Neuroscience Department for University of Reading, per King’s College.

“The group who had the wild blueberry powder showed signs of better memory and greater mental flexibility when completing cognitive tasks.”