Foods that fight memory loss

By John Murphy
Published September 18, 2020

Key Takeaways

Worried about cognitive decline? Here’s something to chew on: You can prevent dementia and even lower your “brain age” by eating the right foods. In fact, there’s a specific diet for it.

It’s called the “Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” diet, or MIND diet for short. As its name implies, it’s a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, both of which have been shown to reduce Alzheimer’s disease in people who strictly adhere to them.

In a study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, researchers from Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago, IL, showed that the MIND diet lowered Alzheimer’s risk by about one-third (35%) in participants who followed it moderately well and by more than half (53%) in those who stuck to the diet rigorously.

The more brain-healthy foods that participants ate, the higher they scored. By the end of the study, people who scored the highest had slowed their rate of cognitive decline by the equivalent of 7.5 years compared with those who scored the lowest.

Would you like to make your brain more youthful, too? Eat the 10 best brain-healthy foods, according to the MIND diet:

Green leafy vegetables

Of all the brain-healthy food groups, green leafy vegetables provide the greatest protection from cognitive decline. Some good choices include kale, collard greens, and spinach. They’re rich sources of nutrients—like folate, vitamin E, carotenoids, and flavonoids—that have been linked to lower risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Have one serving of greens or a mixed salad every day.  

Other vegetables

In addition to a green leafy vegetable, eat at least one serving of another vegetable every day. According to MIND diet researchers, there’s a range of veggies and veggie dishes to choose from, including green or red peppers, squash, cooked or raw carrots, broccoli, celery, potatoes, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, string beans, beets, corn, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant—even coleslaw and potato salad.


Besides their anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and cardiovascular benefits, nuts may promote brain health due to their high flavonoid content. Walnuts, in particular, have more polyphenols than any other nut. At least one randomized clinical trial has indicated that high walnut consumption in an at-risk elderly population may delay cognitive decline. The MIND diet calls for eating nuts as a snack on most days of the week.


Although fruits in general haven’t shown a protective benefit in studies of cognitive decline or dementia, berries in particular have demonstrated improved memory and learning in animal models, as well as a 2.5-year delay in cognitive decline in the Nurses’ Health Study. “Higher intake of flavonoids, particularly from berries, appears to reduce rates of cognitive decline in older adults,” the authors of the latter study concluded, pointing to blueberries and strawberries especially. Eat berries at least twice a week for the best brain benefit.


Beans (including other legumes, like lentils and soybeans) are another food staple that’s good for brain health. High consumption of legumes (three or more servings per week) has been associated with increased cognitive performance, with the highest concentration of folate of any food. The MIND diet recommends eating beans every other day or so.

Whole grains

Whole grains provide a sustained, stable flow of energy (in the form of blood glucose) to the brain. Whole grains are also a rich source of vitamin E—which has been demonstrated to provide neuroprotective properties to the brain—as well as antioxidants, B vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, healthy fats, and fiber. Eat three servings of whole grains each day.  


“Fish are a rich source of long-chain n-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce Aβ [amyloid-beta] formation and oxidative damage, and to increase synaptic proteins and dendritic spine density,” according to the authors of the Alzheimer's & Dementia study. Specifically, studies have demonstrated that eating one fish meal a week is linked to slower cognitive decline, without much additional benefit to eating more fish per week. So, that’s all that’s recommended—one serving of fish per week. But that serving shouldn’t be batter-dipped fish sticks or fried fish; it means fresh fish.


“Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” Poultry is a good source of lean protein and, as research has shown, a high-protein diet may be protective against Aβ in the brains of older adults before memory loss sets in. The researchers suggest eating chicken or turkey at least twice a week as a main dish or a sandwich. (Sorry, kids, fried chicken and chicken nuggets don’t count.)

Olive oil

Consuming olive oil has been independently linked to better cognitive function in older people on a Mediterranean diet. Similarly, a Mediterranean diet featuring olive oil (or nuts) improved cognition scores better than a low-fat diet. To qualify as part of the MIND diet, olive oil should be used as the main source of oil in the kitchen.  


Wine—yes, wine!—is one of the 10 best foods for your brain, according to the MIND diet. This should probably come as no surprise because red wine is not only a conventional component of the Mediterranean diet but has also been associated with a lesser risk of dementia and better overall brain health when consumed in low doses. Drinking wine at minimal levels even helps the brain clear out waste. As such, the MIND diet allows one glass of wine per day.

What to avoid

Those are the 10 foods you should eat for better brain health. So what should you avoid? The MIND diet has suggestions for that, too. The five worst foods for your brain include:

  • Red meat

  • Butter and stick margarine

  • Cheese

  • Pastries and sweets

  • Fried or fast food

There’s a lot that’s bad about these unhealthy foods, but for the brain’s sake, the problems relate to their high amounts of saturated fats and trans fats.

“Fat composition that is higher in saturated and trans fats and lower in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats lead to blood brain barrier dysfunction and increased Aβ aggregation,” the MIND authors wrote.

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