Our happy hormone serotonin, is overwhelmingly produced — 95% — in our gastrointestinal tracts, according to Simply Neuroscience. Since digestion happens at a chemical level, what’s really in our food matters a ton. Knowing why certain foods are more beneficial than others can help us to be more intentional with what ends up on our dinner plates. Here are 11 foods that increase the health and function of the brain — and why.

1. Fatty fish

Important nutrients: Omega-3 fatty acids.

Benefits: Eating fatty fish is proven to slow mental degeneration and stabilize mood swings, per Senior Lifestyle. Alzheimer’s Research UK published a study that showed a correlation between healthier brain structures in middle-aged people and consumption of omega-3 foods.

2. Blueberries

Important nutrients: Anthocyanin.

Benefits: Dietitian Joyce Prescott told Cleveland Clinic, “Research shows that flavonoids are also powerful nutrients and may help explain why plant-based diets are consistently associated with health benefits. We think this is due, in part, to their antioxidant properties.” Anthocyanins are also found in strawberries, raspberries, purple vegetables and raspberries.

3. Eggs

Important nutrients: Choline, lutein and tryptophan.

Benefits: Though eggs have gotten a bad rap over the years due to their relatively high cholesterol levels, they also contain nutrients that promote brain development and can improve memory and motor function.

The Journal of Nutritional Science published a study in 2021, explaining that higher levels of choline in adults was correlated with “improved performance on tasks of processing speed, working memory, memory and visuomotor skill.”

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4. Dark chocolate

Important nutrients: Flavonoids

Benefits: Dr. Tian-Shin Yeh told Harvard Health, “Some studies have suggested flavonoids may offer protective effects for brain cells.” Several animal studies showed flavonol’s ability to decrease plaque growth and increase blood flow in the brain.

“Some studies found flavonoid intake is inversely related to cardiovascular disease, and what is good for the cardiovascular system is also good for the brain,” said Yeh.

5. Oranges

Important nutrients: Flavanoids and vitamin C.

Benefits: Longevity Technology reported on several benefits vitamin C has on the brain, saying it “plays a role in the synthesis of myelin, a fatty substance that accelerates the transmission of electrical signals in the brain,” which increases brain efficiency. They also reported on research that vitamin C may play a role in neuron development.

6. Spinach and green leafy vegetables

Important nutrients: B vitamin folate.

Benefits: B vitamin folate reduces homocysteine levels, according to Taste of Home. Homocysteine is an amino acid that leads to blood clotting and is toxic to neurons. Foods that are high in B vitamin folate include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, peas and kidney beans, according to the NHS.

7. Walnuts

Important nutrients: Omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid).

Benefits: ALA and omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to the brain and the heart and have been linked to “lower blood pressure and cleaner arteries,” per Harvard Health. Harvard’s article also referenced a study done by UCLA linking walnuts to “improved cognitive test scores.”

8. Bone broth

Important nutrients: Amino acid glycine.

Benefits: Glycine fosters improved memory, reduced stress and better mental awareness, per Owl Venice. Glycine is a “neurotransmitter that has the ability to stimulate or quiet the brain,” and helps the consumer have more control staying alert while awake and calm while asleep.

9. Turmeric

Important nutrients: Turmerone.

Benefits: Alzheimers.org explained that turmerone stimulates the brain to create new cells, which could help with diseases like Alzheimer’s, where the brain faces deterioration. In mice studies, turmerone’s component curcumin seemed to be correlated with reduced oxidative stress and inflammation.

10. Coconut oil

Important nutrients: Medium-chain fatty acid.

Benefits: This fatty acid “creates ketone bodies, which act as an energy source in the brain and may benefit people who have or are developing impaired memory,” per Medical News Today. Coconut oil is great for brain health and has been known “to help with several brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy,” Neurotrition added.

11. Whole grains

Important nutrients: Complex carbohydrates.

Benefits: High sugar intake is correlated to brain decline, per Cleveland Clinic. Memory and brain health specialist Babak Tousi explained, “As soon as you eat white bread, it breaks down quickly into sugar.”

“Whole-grain bread does not.” He continued, “Try to avoid foods that release sugar very quickly into your body. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains are broken down more slowly, so sugar is released gradually, allowing your body to function more efficiently.”

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