The 6 Best Drinks for Your Brain Health, Say Experts
Brain health is top of mind as many of us look for ways to improve our memory and focus. There are plenty of specialty supplements on the market to improve cognition and even to help prevent degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but you can support your noggin with the foods as well as these best drinks for brain health every day.
Including nutrients in your diet like omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, choline, and B vitamins in specific foods like fish, pulses, and walnuts is a great way to support your brain health. But you can also give yourself an extra advantage by choosing drinks that are high in polyphenols, antioxidants, amino acids, and probiotics that support memory, focus, cognition, mood, and inflammation.
Check out the list below for the best drinks for your brain health, according to dietitians.
1. Green tea
The research behind green tea’s brain-boosting benefits is strong, and it’s thanks to a number of different chemicals found in each cup.
“Green tea contains antioxidants, caffeine, and several other plant compounds that may help reduce inflammation, decrease oxidative stress, and plaque buildup in the brain,” says Laura M. Ali, MS, RDN, a culinary nutritionist and author of the MIND Diet for Two.
One of the antioxidants with the highest activity in green tea and the biggest brain-boosting benefit is the polyphenol EGCG. “EGCG can cross the blood-brain barrier and could be neuroprotective,” explains Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD.
A 2019 review in Nutrients found that green tea can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive impairments by reducing oxidative stress, inflammation, and the formation of amyloid-beta plaques while also improving blood flow in the brain.
“Green tea also has amino acids that can help with the stress response,” says Sauceda. The amino acids theanine and arginine, along with caffeine and EGCG, in green tea have anti-stress action, which helps reduce the aging effects that long-term stress can have on the brain, per a 2021 review in Molecules.
In the past decade, fermented drinks like kefir have become incredibly popular for their positive effects on gut health.
“Kefir is packed with nutrients, probiotics, and bioactive peptides,” says Caroline Margolis, RDN, a dietitian at Lifeway Foods. Recent research has shed light on the important role gut health plays in the brain, especially when it comes to mood regulation. In fact, 95% of serotonin, a feel-good hormone, is produced in the gut.
Animal studies have found that kefir can improve depressive-like symptoms in mice and that the probiotic strains found in the kefir stayed in the digestive tract for at least seven days. It could also help protect neurons with its anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
Speaking of tea and fermented foods, kombucha is a “best of both worlds” beverage, as it’s essentially fermented tea.
“With its foundation being green or black tea, kombucha is rich in polyphenols, specifically catechins, and L-Theanine, an amino acid known for its memory-boosting effects,” says Jamie Adams, MS, RD, LDN owner of Mamaste Nutrition.
Drinks that contain L-theanine and caffeine, like tea, can improve memory and focus better than other beverages. One small study found that people who drank black tea performed better on cognitive tasks, had improved memory, and made fewer task errors than those who drank only water before being tested.
When the benefits of probiotics are added on top of the tea, kombucha becomes a brain-supporting super drink. While there isn’t much research on kombucha’s specific benefits to gut and brain health yet, fermented foods are linked to improved mood and mental health.
“More and more research is being conducted on the importance of the gut-brain barrier with findings linking good gut health to improved sleep, skin, immunity, and reduced anxiety and depression,” says Adams.
The most simple beverage may be the best for your brain, and the good news is that it’s free and comes straight from the tap!
“Even mild dehydration can impact both cognitive and mood functions, making you feel irritable and unable to focus,” says Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND. Researchers at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga found that just over a 1% reduction in body mass from dehydration led to decreased mood and ability to concentrate, increase difficulty with tasks, and headache symptoms.
If you don’t love the taste of water and have a hard time sipping enough of it, try adding flavor packets or enjoying sparkling water instead, suggests Magill. And remember, all liquids you drink or eat, not just water, will help you stay hydrated!
5. Tart cherry juice
If you’re looking for a drink to replace your nightly wine habit, making a glass of tart cherry juice part of your evening routine could help boost your brain health. Tart cherries are high in melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep, and tryptophan, an amino acid that turns into serotonin, regulating mood and sleep.
“Research shows that tart cherry juice can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress status,” says Magill. Oxidative stress is a major contributor to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In a 2019 study in Food and Function, 37 older adults were given two cups of tart cherry juice daily or a placebo. After 12 weeks, the group who drank tart cherry juice daily had improved memory and attention scores and performed better on learning tasks than the placebo group.
6. Bone broth
One of the most important things you can do for a healthy brain is to make good, quality sleep a part of your routine. Sipping bone broth in the evenings could help you do just that.
Without enough sleep, you’ll have a difficult time creating new memories and concentrating on tasks throughout the day, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
“Bone broth is rich in an amino acid known as glycine,” says Julie Balsamo, MS, RDN. “When glycine is consumed before bed it can improve the quality of sleep and promote healthy sleep patterns,” she adds.
In one study, healthy adults who reported difficulty sleeping took 3 grams of glycine before bed and reported improved sleep quality and decreased time to fall asleep. They also performed better on memory tests and had less daytime sleepiness.