What should you eat if you want to keep a healthy brain? We’ve all heard about different kinds of brain foods, but which ones actually provide nutrients that boost memory, attention, and mood?

Nutrition affects brain health in many ways. What we eat not only fuels our brain cells, but it brings us great pleasure in life, which can support a stable mood. However, nutritional scientists have noted that the foods we eat can have much more complex effects on our mood and temperament.

How to Keep Your Brain Healthy with Nutrient-Rich Foods

Here are my top recommendations to add to your diet:

1. Fish Oils

If there is one food you can relate to brain health it’s probably this one. The main reason is that fatty fishes –such as sardines, salmon and trout – have high levels of omega-3. Farm-fed fish including tilapia and some salmon have both omega-3 and omega-6 and are less desirable.

Always ask for ocean-caught fish. About 60 percent of the brain is made of fat, and the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found in fish are a type of fat that is not made efficiently by your body so you have to obtain them from food. Omega-3 fatty acids also keep your heart healthy.

2. Black and Green Tea

Black and green teas provide hydration for any time of day, which is essential for the brain, while jump-starting thermogenic (metabolic) activity and boosting the feeling of energy. Caffeine is known for its natural thermogenic (metabolism-boosting) benefits and green tea for its antioxidant properties.

These teas also support the body’s antioxidant activity, which helps protect against free radical damage. Don’t drink your tea immediately: give it time so water can extract and concentrate the tea’s components so you get the maximum benefit.

Brain Healthy Foods

3. Lutein

Lutein is a yellow antioxidant phytonutrient found in spinach, kale, and avocados as well as dietary supplements for eye health. Lutein is concentrated in the back of the eye in an area called the macula which is hit with the most ultraviolet light as a result of the focusing of light by the lens of the eye.

The eye is connected to the brain via the optic nerve and Lutein is transported to the brain where it is in higher concentration than in the blood (58% of carotene-like antioxidants in the brain but only 28% of this family of phytonutrients in the bloodstream). There are now studies both in young people and in the elderly demonstrating positive effects on Lutein on brain function.

4. Dark Chocolate

This delicious food is rich in flavonoids, but be sure to get chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. The flavonoids which are strong antioxidants that may enhance memory and also help slow down age-related mental decline are found in cocoa but not in all chocolate. For example, white chocolate has no cocoa and many candies are only 30% cocoa. The best news? Chocolate is a guilty pleasure, because it also causes the brain to release dopamine, which improves mood.

5. Eggs

Eggs and eggs yolk are rich in protein and vitamins such as B, D, and E, which may help to improve memory. Choline is also found in eggs; it is a micronutrient that your body uses to create acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and memory. Egg yellow also has lutein which can help with brain health.

6. Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is rich in a polyphenol called hydroxytyrosol, which is removed in refined forms of olive oil. This powerful antioxidant may improve learning and memory, but it also has a compound that mimics a painkiller. The compound, called oleocanthal, acts in the same way as ibuprofen to stifle components of a pain pathway called the prostaglandin system.

Going Beyond Food and Diet

Ultimately, make sure to consume high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Another essential part of keeping a healthy brain is neurobic exercises, which help boost attention, memory, cognition, and mood.

The brain is the one organ you cannot transplant or replace, so take good care of it. You only have one.

David Heber

David HeberM.D., Ph.D., FACP, FASN – Chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute

Dr. David Heber is the chairman of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute (HNI), which promotes excellence in nutrition education for the public and scientific community and sponsors scientific symposia. The HNI Editorial Board is made up of key scientific opinion leaders from around the world in the fields of nutrition, exercise physiology, behavioral medicine and public health. Dr. Heber holds a degree in chemistry, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in physiology from UCLA.* In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, reading and painting. Dr. Heber’s favorite Herbalife products are Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix, Herbalife Personalized Protein Powder and the SKIN product line.

*The University of California does not endorse specific products or services as a matter of policy.