When it comes to living a happy, healthy life, it’s hard to think of an organ in the body more important than the brain. Every other part of the body depends on it.

Treating your brain well is key to your physical, emotional and intellectual health. So, in addition to other protective actions like exercise, getting enough sleep, challenging yourself mentally and not consuming toxic substances, it’s important to nourish your body with nutritious foods that will help your brain operate at peak levels.

Evidence is growing to support the idea that a good diet can help slow the natural progression of how our brains age. Even if we can’t completely halt the brain shrinkage and memory loss that often come with getting older, what we eat can help delay them and minimize their impact. A healthy diet may even help decrease our chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

It will probably come as no surprise that most of the foods that are good for your brain are the same ones that are good for the rest of your body — so now you have even more reason to add them to your eating plan. Incorporate these brain-friendly foods into your daily diet to help yourself stay sharp, focused and thinking clearly.

  • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical for brain health and memory:
    • Fish (choose fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, lake trout, sardines and canned light tuna, but skip varieties high in mercury like swordfish, tile fish, marlin and shark)
    • Some oils, including flaxseed and vegetable oils
    • Nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, pecans, flaxseed, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds
  • Foods with lots of B vitamins, which “are absolutely essential for every aspect of brain function” according to a 2016 study in the journal Nutrients:
    • Fish (many of the same fish high in omega-3s, so they do double duty — including salmon, trout and canned tuna) and other seafood like clams and crab
    • Beef
    • Pork
    • Poultry
    • Eggs
    • Potatoes
    • Fortified whole-grain cereals and bread
    • Leafy greens
  • Foods with ample vitamin K, which may lessen the risk of dementia:
    • Broccoli
    • Leafy greens
    • Kiwi fruit
    • Berries, especially blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
    • Grapes
    • Nuts, especially cashews and pine nuts
  • Foods high in zinc, which may help with memory, mood and stress relief:
    • Beef
    • Shellfish like crab, lobster and oysters
    • Fortified whole-grain cereals
    • Wheat germ
    • Mushrooms
    • Pumpkin seeds
    • Eggs
    • Dairy products, especially milk and cheese
  • Foods high in antioxidants, which help protect the brain from damage by free radicals:
    • Citrus fruits
    • Berries, especially blueberries, cranberries and blackberries
    • Brewed tea
    • Dark chocolate
    • Beans and legumes, especially kidney and pinto beans
    • Apples
    • Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds and flaxseed
    • Tomatoes
  • Spices that may enhance brain health in various ways:
    • Turmeric — the curcumin it contains may improve working memory and attention span
    • Sage — may strengthen the hippocampus to help boost memory and concentration
    • Basil —improves blood flow to the heart and brain and may help ward against dementia
    • Cardamom — may help protect brain cells from free radical damage
    • Cinnamon — may increase cognitive functioning, alertness and focus
    • Black pepper — may help improve brain function and lessen symptoms of depression (and, when paired with other spices — especially turmeric — may increase their benefits)
    • Peppermint — may improve both long-term and working memory
    • Nutmeg — may help boost mood and help slow cognitive decline

Remember that all foods should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet, and follow your physician’s advice regarding your specific nutritional needs.