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Foods the support brain health

The Smart Plate: 10 Foods That Support a Healthy Mind

Amanda S. Creasey

The golden years of our lives are not called golden for nothing. And while Robert Frost warns us that “nothing gold can stay,” studies have shown that we can take certain steps to lengthen the duration of our golden years and keep a healthy mind. In fact, genetics account for only 20-30% of our aging process, while lifestyle accounts for 60-70%, with nutrition being the most influential factor. If we make smart choices, filling our plates with smart foods, we can keep our bodies and minds resplendent throughout our golden years.

Entrees for a Healthy Mind: Fish and Turkey

Fatty Fish for a Healthy Mind

Fatty fish is one of the most potent sources of protein we can consume to help support healthy brain function. They’re chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, which helps decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. People aged 65 and older who ate fish two or more times a week were at lower risk of developing dementia. Some examples of fatty fish include:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines

The consumption of these fish can also decrease your risk of a stroke. In fact, adding these fish to your diet can also help increase your memory as you age. Because fatty fish contain the mineral selenium, consuming them can also help keep your mood balanced. Diets low in selenium correlate with higher instances of depression, leading researchers to surmise that maintaining a higher level of the mineral can help support mental health.

If you’re not a fan of seafood, turkey is another adequate source of selenium, proven to help boost mood. While turkey’s tryptophan content has long been infamous for causing the all-too-familiar Thanksgiving Day food coma, tryptophan is actually quite misunderstood. Instead of making you tired all on its own, it produces serotonin, an anti-depressant that helps regulate your sleep cycles. Without tryptophan, the brain cannot produce serotonin, which helps with memory, transmitting impulses between nerves, sense of well-being and mood balance.

Sides for a Healthy Mind: Broccoli and Beans

Beans for a Healthy Mind

Both turkey and seafood pair well with broccoli, a superfood associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s. Broccoli also helps to maintain “crystallized intelligence,” or the skills and knowledge you have acquired over and applied throughout the span of your life. It’s also a good source of lutein, a plant pigment that embeds in cell membranes and protects your neurons. The consumption of lutein helps preserve our telomeres, essentially protective caps on both ends of our chromosomes that help safeguard the genome from degradation with age.

High in protein and low in saturated fat, beans make another smart food choice for brain health. They contain folate, iron, potassium, magnesium and choline (a B vitamin), just to name a few nutrients. Consuming beans can increase acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that assists with maintaining involuntary bodily function. Beans can also help stabilize glucose, which your brain needs but cannot store.

Garnishes for a Healthy Mind: Berries, Walnuts and Avocado

Blueberries for a Healthy Mind

Traditionally, we think of the major food groups as including carbohydrates and starches, fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy and sweets. The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) lists berries as their own, standalone food group, though fruit is not included as its own category. In a recent study, the motor skills and learning of older rats who consumed blueberry extract improved to match the ability of much younger rats. This implies that people who consume blueberries may be able to reverse cognitive decline resulting from age and help keep a healthy mind. Berries contain anthocyanin, a phytochemical that reduces damage from free radicals, radiation and inflammation, thus also helping reduce your chances of Alzheimer’s by protecting the brain from “oxidative stress.” In addition, like broccoli, berries provide antioxidants that preserve telomeres.

Walnuts provide omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats that are good for your heart. They also provide omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6 and magnesium, all found to boost mood and decrease memory loss.

Like berries, avocados can help decrease your chance of Alzheimer’s. They contain monounsaturated fat, which lowers the bad cholesterol linked to the development of Alzheimer’s, and increases blood flow to the brain. In addition, consuming avocados helps lower blood pressure, and also decreases risk of hypertension, a condition that often contributes to cognitive decay. In fact, lower blood pressure supports overall brain health.

Drinks for a Healthy Mind: Milk and Lemonade/Fruit Juice

Drink Milk for a Healthy Mind

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” but maybe there is a reason to do so. Milk provides vitamin D, low levels of which are associated with depression, and vitamin B12, a lack of which causes low levels of S-adenosylmethionine, used in the brain to process chemicals that balance mood. Milk also provides thiamine, which the body cannot produce on its own. A thiamine deficiency can cause Korsakoff’s syndrome, a condition that affects memory and balance, and can cause ataxia (lack of muscle coordination), and other symptoms.

While we’re often warned against indulging in too many sugary drinks, an occasional lemonade or fruit juice can provide us with a natural form of glucose that helps the body process sugar from carbs, and temporarily boosts memory, alertness and mental ability.

Dessert for a Healthy Mind: Chocolate

Eat Dark Chocolate for  Healthy Mind

If you’ve ever needed a reason to justify eating more chocolate, here it is: The vitamin E found in dark chocolate decreases cognitive decline with age. In addition, dark chocolate contains caffeine, which improves focus and stimulates endorphin production, thus kick-starting a sense of well-being and a feeling of happiness. Along with vitamin E and caffeine, consuming dark chocolate provides you with flavanol, an antioxidant that increases blood flow to brain.

The Smart Plate: A Meal to Power Your Brain

After all this talk of food, your stomach might be growling. Here’s how you can create your own smart plate for dinner tonight:

  • First, include a fist-sized portion of fatty fish or turkey garnished with one-quarter avocado, sliced thinly. According to Carol Sorgen’s article, “Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain,” on WebMD, because avocados contain high levels of fat, experts recommend eating only one quarter to one half of an avocado daily.
  • As a side, include a small portion of broccoli garnished with chopped walnuts. You can also add nuts to cereal, yogurt, desserts and meats. The experts in Sorgen’s article recommend consuming one ounce per day.
  • They also recommend eating half a cup of beans daily, so go ahead and add a scoop to your plate, right beside your broccoli.
  • For dessert, enjoy half an ounce to one ounce of dark chocolate (the daily recommendation), shaved over a quarter cup of blueberries. Sorgen’s nutritionists recommend consuming one cup of fresh, frozen or freeze-dried berries a day.
  • Oh, and don’t forget to wash it all down with a tall glass of milk!

How do you support your healthy mind? What are your favorite healthy foods or recipes? Share in the comments and see what other readers have to say.

brain exercise

Read Next: In addition to eating the right foods to help improve brain function, check out these common myths about brains and the scientific evidence that dispels them.

44 Responses to "The Smart Plate: 10 Foods That Support a Healthy Mind"
    • Kaylouise Cook | June 26, 2021 at 8:33 pm

      I have been consuming Golden Milk every evening for over a year as an antiinflammatory.
      4T Tumeric +1T Unrefined Coconut oil +1/4 t black pepper in large mug. Microwave to melt. Add 1T unflavoured beef gelatin, mix.
      Add Almond milk to fill mug. Microwave again to mix milk.
      the coconut oil is the conductant.
      am glad to know it’s a brain food as well.
      since grocery stores have eliminated bulk foods I buy Tumeric at my Indian grocery store in 4lb bags
      Great Lakes Gelatin is my source for gelatin.

    • Sally kalama | June 26, 2021 at 11:54 am

      I have been watching what I eat and no red meat and feeling a lot better.

    • Liz Martin | June 24, 2021 at 10:05 pm

      It pleases me that I happen to like all of the healthy foods described in this article. I prefer fish, especially salmon and prefer either fish or turkey over other meats. Spinich wasn’t mentioned but it is a favorite vegetable. A favorite meal is steamed or broiled salmon and steamed spinich, but now, I will be sure to alternate my sides with broccoli and/or beans. I will eat a partial avacado more frequently. I learned by trial how to store a partial avacado overnight. Halved or quartered avacado keeps best when it is protected in its own skin. Covering the exposed half of an avacado with the skin of the eaten half and then wrapping in plastic will preserve avacado in the fridge till next day. My power breakfast is steel cut oatmeal, with wheat germ, flax seed, walnuts, honey, and milk. Fresh blueberries are nutrient packed and are low calorie density. Foods that hold more water hold less calories and make you feel full longer. I snack on fresh sliced cucumbers instead of salty snacks. Just a few bites of dark chocolate satisfy my ooccasional sweet craving. And, our bodies are made of a lot of water, so keep your cells fluid with water every day too.

    • Jolee Vasquez | June 15, 2021 at 11:03 am

      Not sure I agree with milk. Cow’s milk is for baby cows to grow 1,000 lbs. in a year.

    • Terry L Scott | May 6, 2021 at 3:05 pm

      Very helpful information keep sending these our way.

    • Kathleen Nesseth | February 28, 2021 at 12:37 am

      Grapefruit and juice are harmful when taking some medications. So follow the directions that come with your meds. It’s important!

    • Ilean Watkins | February 27, 2021 at 3:32 pm

      This was helpful and easy to follow. I don’t drink cows milk, only almond milk
      Is that a good substitute for milk. I love the idea of being able to eat dark chocolate.

    • Debbie Rivera | February 27, 2021 at 8:56 am

      I found all of this very helpful .My mom has dementia and if eating dark chocolate will help then that’s what am doing.Thank you for all the information on healthy eating.

    • ELSIE CLARK | February 26, 2021 at 12:21 pm


      • Jane Miller | February 26, 2021 at 2:39 pm

        Put turmeric side effects into your search engine to see if this is a possible side effect.

    • Barry Elsom | February 25, 2021 at 4:20 pm

      I think I know the answer to this question but I would like verification or explanation. Is farm raised salmon or any other fish as acceptable as wild caught fish?

    • Carole Miller Bryce | March 14, 2020 at 2:36 pm

      Would love to copy this msg and have a hard copy to share to friends and family.

      • Chloe S | March 16, 2020 at 12:29 pm

        Hi Carole! We are so glad to hear you enjoyed this article. Thank you for sharing with your friends and family. Be sure to credit The Hartford!

    • Pauletta Winebarger | August 18, 2019 at 9:26 pm

      So right proper nutrtion is the only way to really thrive.

    • Jerry Meier | August 12, 2019 at 7:51 pm

      Wanda, I noticed grapefruit and what appears to be almonds in the picture at the beginning of your article. Would you mind identifying some of the other foods if they contribute to our mental well being? I enjoyed the article; very informative.
      Thank you.

    • Lynne Sanchez | August 12, 2019 at 4:11 pm

      Great article!

      • Extra Mile Staff | August 12, 2019 at 5:18 pm

        Glad you enjoyed it, Lynne!

    • Lory Q | August 11, 2019 at 1:31 pm

      Thank you for the wonderfull article on the good food we should be eating.I just turned 81 and want to improve my brain and body health.

    • Margaret Mitchell | August 11, 2019 at 12:56 pm

      It’s good to know that I can consume a little chocolate a day! Love the stuff and trying to start away from too much sugar is hard sometimes! Thank you for the Alzheimer’s information .

    • sonia erlich | August 11, 2019 at 12:16 pm

      What a great message! Keep them coming

    • Lorraine McIntosh | August 10, 2019 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks for providing some great nutritional news for seniors. Many people don’t know about better dietary choices and think processed and GMO foods are the only things available. Good foods can be a remedy for many ailments.

    • Liz | August 10, 2019 at 6:34 pm

      I’m not a fan of the dark chocolate but I’ve been eating it anyway because it is TRULY good for the brain been eating it for years now.

    • Pat Galla | August 10, 2019 at 5:39 pm

      Very informative. It is always good to review the best way and food items that are best to eat. I never eat red meat. But at 81 years I am a 4-1/2 year lifer in WW and believe that walnuts, berries, fruit, fish and poultry, beans and multi grains are the way to go to stay healthy and alert. Also drink a minimum of 9 glasses of water each day and enjoy hot green tea or peppermint tea. As an added bonus Ginger Chews sold at Trader Joe’s is an excellent end to a meal and very healthy.
      Enjoyed the read.

    • Therese Baillargeon | August 10, 2019 at 4:40 pm

      I am 77 years young. In perfect health. No subscriptions.
      I so enjoy your newsletters.
      Basically what I eat. Very active gardening and bouncing on my ball.
      Also a lot of stretching. I will improve on nuts as you suggest.
      Thank you for caring for your membership and please keep sending more info… 🙂

      • Extra Mile Staff | August 12, 2019 at 6:05 pm

        Hello, Therese. We are so glad you enjoy our newsletter.

    • Keith | August 10, 2019 at 4:09 pm

      My doctor orders is mostly opposite of the above. He said no chocolate, nuts, fatty foods, Sugar of any kind, no fruit (too much sugar), definitely no juices or milk. He first said no coffee until I protested so he said no more than 1/2 cup of black coffee per day.

    • Wanda | August 10, 2019 at 3:48 pm

      Today is my 64th birthday-nutrition being one of my highest priorities-I am finding the more I research the subject of nutrition-the more I get mixed messages about what is “good” and what is “bad” for the body. It is my understanding that milk-particularly cow’s milk-is extremely harmful to humans as we are not designed to digest it; thus lactose intolerance. The promoting of vitamin D in milk is certainly arguable because it is the exposure to sunlight that promotes vitamin D; and both calcium and magnesium must be consumed in order to absorb vitamin D. Just sayin’.

      • Extra Mile Staff | August 12, 2019 at 6:11 pm

        Happy belated birthday, Wanda!

      • Jerry | February 27, 2021 at 11:11 am

        I have seen, over my years, the benefits of Dark Chocolate…especially where it relates to sleep….Vert often, I eat a one or two pieces and….honestly, it seems to act as a soporific! This may be a placebo effect and I will gladly take the effects, real or placebo….Interesting though is that if I eat the same amount of regular chocolate, it seems to affect my sleep in a negative way… Again, happy to know, placebo or not…What does any research show concerning this matter….???

        Don’t worry about scuttling my dreams…place0bo will still work….probably!

    • Sylvie Bouldin | August 10, 2019 at 3:20 pm

      Don’t forget TURMERIC for brain health and cancer prevention!!! Turmeric is why people in India have
      1/4 the Alzheimer’s and 1/10th of several other cancers that we have in America – they use it in their curries
      daily. Curcumin, the healing agent in turmeric is very poorly absorbed without black pepper (or Bioperine)
      which increases absorbtion by 2000 %. Bioperine (black pepper supplement) also increases absorbtion of
      all of the other food and supplements you take along with it! If you consume turmeric without black pepper you are swallowing a BIG ORANGE PLACEBO. Also, turmeric is better absorbed with a healthy
      FAT. I take 2 500 mg capsules of turmeric daily, one with breakfast and one with dinner. Good health
      to you!

      • Extra Mile Staff | August 12, 2019 at 6:16 pm

        Thanks for sharing, Sylvie!

      • Jane Miller | February 26, 2021 at 1:19 pm

        Be careful with turmeric. I used it for several weeks. It made my joints feel so much better. But then I started to feel like I was having a gallstone attack. I stopped the turmeric and quit eating fatty foods for a couple of days, then I was back to normal. If you read up on side effects of turmeric, gallbladder issues are one of them.

    • Debbie Moody | August 10, 2019 at 2:45 pm

      great information,when it comes to milk, which is better the 2% or whole milk?

    • Claudia Alphin | August 8, 2019 at 8:03 pm

      Excellent information. I am 69 and in good health! A bit under weight 5 ‘ 8 ‘ 120 pounds
      Enjoying life retired and living wisely is very important!

    • Sharon Atchenson | March 24, 2019 at 1:57 pm

      Is subscribing free? Only interested if this is FREE.

      • Extra Mile Staff | March 25, 2019 at 12:32 pm

        Hi Sharon, yes it is!

    • Suzanne | October 25, 2018 at 1:44 am

      I’m very interested in your article and would like to save it but I’m not sure how to. Can you help me?

      • Extra Mile Staff | October 25, 2018 at 12:42 pm

        Hi Suzanne! Happy to help. You can print this article by going to the printer icon located underneath the title and the “nutrition” tag. If you would like to access this from your computer in the future, you can add it to your bookmarks.

    • Julie Scott | October 17, 2018 at 12:42 pm

      are cranberries as good as blueberries? I eat usually 1/2 cup of blueberries on my cereal along with walnuts and flax seed but eating another 1/2 cup would be difficult. Is tuna also a good choice for omega 3?

    • Loren | October 1, 2018 at 7:00 pm

      Where does chicken fall in this listing?

    • Jane Woods | August 9, 2018 at 7:26 am

      Fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may prevent age-related brain shrinkage. Foods that contain flavonoids, such as berries, can delay memory decline. suggest vitamin E may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

    • Doris Abraham | May 6, 2018 at 4:53 pm

      I really liked everything you had to stay.
      I recently had a heart attack at the age of 78 and realize I need to change my eating habits.
      Any information you cad give me would be appreciated.

    • Gail Funcan | March 16, 2018 at 3:45 am

      Better to eat the whole fruit instead of drinking juice. You get some fiber and it doesn’t raise your glucose so quickly.

      • RUBIE JOHNSON | February 27, 2021 at 11:11 am

        Regarding lemonaid, I learned from my Mom and her father to drink unsweetened juice from a lemon, then eat the remaining fruit in the skin. I prefer it to a sweetened lemonaid.

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