Best Brain Food Snacks
Jules Walters • First Published: Oct 12, 2023
The good news for women is that we’re living longer than at any time in human history. Most of us can now expect to live to around 80. The bad news is that those older years are not necessarily healthy ones, particularly for our brains. A little known fact is that two-thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s Disease are women.
One easy way to keep our brains healthy for as long as possible is to give it nutrients that our brain cells love. So, here are 7 brain food snacks that will improve memory and brain function.
7 brain-boosting foods
Omega 3 fatty acids
Brain cells love healthy fats full of omega-3 fatty acids. One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids is fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and anchovies. They help to build cell membranes and support the release of neurotransmitters.
A few tins in your kitchen cupboard can make it easy to add to salads or vegetables. A salad nicoise with tuna is a good choice as a snack, or mixing in anchovies with oven-cooked tomatoes.
If you don’t like the taste of fish, another option is an omega-3 supplement for good brain health.
A handful of nuts
We all know that craving mid-afternoon for something sweet. How about a handful of nuts instead? Walnuts, in particular, are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Macadamia nuts, almonds and hazelnuts are also omega 3 rich. Unsalted, unsweetened nuts are the healthiest option.
Research has shown that eating leafy greens every day can improve memory. Fresh veggies like kale, spinach and collard greens are rich sources of vitamin K, nitrates and folates to support cognitive function.
Keep a bag of greens in the fridge and add to a snack, like spinach on toast. Breakfast food with steamed spinach is also a great way to start the day, paired with smoked salmon for omega 3s and eggs for protein. Kale chips are another option; just check the label for the amount of salt added.
The plant pigments that give berries their vibrant colors also help to improve memory. Add raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or strawberries to greek yogurt in the morning, maybe mixed with flaxseed; also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Eating blueberries as an afternoon snack is another brain-friendly option.
Yes! Dark chocolate is good for memory. A study published in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2017 showed that a couple of squares of dark chocolate over eight weeks resulted in faster thinking and working memory.
Chocolate is full of plant compounds called flavinoids, from the cocoa bean, which are thought to improve blood flow and have been found in the areas of the brain important for learning and memory. Look for chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. The more cocoa, the better.
That coffee is good for brain health is good news if, like me, you start your day with a fine cup of coffee. Coffee is one of the most widely consumed psychostimulants, and thankfully it has several powerful antioxidants; such as caffeine and chlorogenic acid.
Like most things, just don’t overdo it. Guidance is to stick to around two cups of coffee in one sitting and no more than five cups a day. I find it best to stick to two cups of coffee a day; and not after noon, or my sleep suffers.
Egg yolks are packed with choline, which helps to regulate memory among other brain functions, and most of our choline comes from the food we eat. Eating eggs has had a bad rap recently due to misplaced concerns over cholesterol. The American Heart Association has recently revised its guidelines to include eggs as part of a healthy diet.
So eggs are brain food snack too. Think about keeping a few hard-boiled eggs in the fridge for a grab-and-go option.
And remember to stay hydrated
Water helps increase blood flow to our brains, delivering oxygen and important electrolytes. If it’s a work day and you’re at home in your office, keep a bottle of filtered water by your desk so it’s easy to fill and refill a glass. You can make it more interesting by adding a slice of lemon or orange. Cucumber also adds a refreshing taste.
Why is overall brain health worse in older women?
Frankly, we don’t know why women have more cognitive decline than men. One theory is that women are simply living longer than men, and age is the main risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and a range of other neurodegenerative disorders.
A recent study has shown that women who had paid work outside of the home had slower memory decline in later life. So maybe not all of us are the same?
Whether we had paid work or not in the past, the key message is that we need to keep our brains active and the activity of working improves brain power. So engage in a thinking task every day. Playing games like Scrabble, Wordle, and crosswords not only test mental agility and boost brainpower; they may also help prevent cognitive decline.
Volunteer for a local cause that’s in line with your values and get on the thinking tasks like finance, project management, communications or data science. All will support your brain development.
How do I check my brain health?
If you want to get some data on your brain health, you could try a brain survey at www.mybrainfitlife.com. This brain head assessment by BrainMD, set up by Dr Daniel Amen, who transformed psychiatry by actually looking into people’s brains through brain scans before treating them.
What other medical discipline apart from psychiatry treats people without actually looking at the organ affected? Daniel changed that by making brain scans a core tool in his medical practice.
Daniel has written many books on brain health, which I highly recommend. You can also go one step further and have a brain scan, called a brain SPECT, through Amen Clinics.
Genetics of brain health
If poor brain health such as dementia runs in your family, consider a genetic test for ApoE4 gene. Research has shown that ApoE4 is the first identified risk factor and a predictor of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
A genetic counselor can talk you through the implications of a genetic test, particularly if the results are positive. The National Society of Genetic Counselors has a directory of 3,300 counselors in the US and Canada.
Summary – Best brain food snacks
Nurturing your brain health is a life-long exercise, but it doesn’t have to be time consuming, nor complicated. Preparation is key to stock your cupboard with brain foods that contain brain-boosting nutrients.
Keep a container of nuts on the kitchen counter, or close to your desk, so the healthiest option becomes the easiest one. Treat yourself in the afternoon to a couple of squares of dark chocolate for good work.
The overall message is that mental decline is not inevitable. The best custodian of our brain health is us, and what essential nutrients we consumer to support brain performance. The right foods, including healthy snacks, lead to a sharper memory, and they also boost brainpower and reduce oxidative stress.
For more ideas on self-care, read my article on 101 ideas to live a longer and healthier life.