By Isadora Baum
We’ve all been there—forgetting keys, a deadline, a friend’s birthday. Even with all the calendar apps and other tools available, it’s hard to remember everything.
Luckily, there are some foods that can boost your brain function and improve your memory, so you can feel more alert and on top of things.
Preliminary research suggests a direct link between memory and prebiotic intake, though the reasoning has yet to be established, according to registered dietician nutritionist Maggie Moon, author of The MIND Diet.
“The best bet is to eat foods throughout the day that offer complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, such as arugula, beets, black beans, nuts, raspberries, and sorghum,” as these can boost microflora in the gut, Moon says.
“Walnuts are packed with vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, phenols, and even melatonin, the sleep hormone, all of which boost memory and cognitive function,” says Jennie Ann Freiman, MD.
“The list of walnut goodies includes vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, calcium, and phenolic compounds that are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, fighting free radicals and oxidative stress that impair brain function,” Frieman says.
Compared with other nuts, walnuts have a particularly high ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, like alpha linolenic acid, which converts to omega-3, says registered dietician Benjamin White. Walnuts also can improve blood flow, which is especially important for sending oxygenated blood to the brain and maintaining proper functions, he adds.
For brain boosting, aim to eat 1 1/2 oz. of walnuts daily (about a handful, or about 20 walnut halves), Freiman says. Include the skins, if possible. Walnut skins contain 90% of the nut’s phenols, so they’re worth consuming, despite their slightly bitter taste, she notes. Phenols are health-boosting in a number of ways, including keeping the gut balanced for better digestion and reduced inflammation, White says.
You already know that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Turns out that can help improve memory and brain function, says Asher Cowan, MD. Turmeric can boost circulation and blood flow to the brain, which may halt memory deterioration–especially important as we age, he says.
The spice, popular in India, is traditionally paired with fat, and that’s how you should eat it, too. “Turmeric contains predominately fat-soluble nutrients and is best absorbed and utilized when eaten in the traditional way with ghee or coconut oil,” he says. “Use it in stir-fires to sauté vegetables, or put in smoothies with coconut oil. The powder dissolves quickly in the food and from there has easy access to your bloodstream and brain.”
Beet root juice is bursting with natural nitrates, which the body converts to nitrites, then nitric oxide, which increases blood flow to the brain. “A recent well-designed but short-term clinical trial showed adults performed better on cognitive tasks 90 minutes after drinking and absorbing about two cups (450 ml or 15.2 oz) of beetroot juice,” says Moon. It may also strengthen your athletic performance, says a 2017 study published in the journal Nutrition.
Add some beet juice to your morning smoothie for sweetness and a different flavor profile than the usual, as well as a memory helper. And, make sure to eat a variety of plant foods, like celery, green beans, and spinach, which also provide nitrates, Moon says.
Add “brain booster” to bone broth’s list of potential benefits.
“Strange as it may seem, chicken soup is great for your memory,” says acupuncturist and Oriental medicine expert Elizabeth Trattner. “In traditional Chinese medicine, the brain is known as ‘the sea of marrow.’ For thousands of years, one of the best anti-aging and memory loss remedies is soup made from marrow. Chicken soup and stews made with real bone marrow not only improve brain function, but the function of the spleen as well,” which in traditional Chinese medicine is responsible for the thinking process.
Research suggests that eggs also may help improve cognitive performance factors, such as verbal fluency, problem solving, and memory, says Moon.
Visnic recommends raw, soft-boiled or over-easy eggs to protect the nutrients from the oxidative effects of heat. Add raw eggs to smoothies or use them to make aioli or Caesar dressing.
However, it’s worth being careful: “Food poisoning via salmonella infection from eating raw or undercooked eggs is not extremely common (1 in 20,000 cases according to the CDC); however, the very young, very old, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system should take extra precautions,” Moon says.
If you love a runny yolk (and who doesn’t?) but don’t want to risk it, look for pasteurized eggs, like these from Davidson’s, she suggests.
Is there anything green tea can’t do? This powerhouse beverage has been shown to improve memory, says registered dietician Natalie Rizzo, as it helps messages get around through different parts of the brain, leading to better memory retention.
For a refreshing summertime beverage, try Visnic’s recipe for green-tea lemonade: “Take 16 oz. of green tea, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 10 to 20 drops of liquid stevia, depending on how sweet you like your lemonade. Three 8-oz. cups per day is the sweet spot for this beverage,” she says. “A recent study found that drinking 27.5 grams of green tea extract per day can help with memory function.”
Or try adding green tea to baked goods, marinades, and your morning oatmeal.