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Eat Smarter: Nutrition for Brain Health

November 1, 2022

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Your brain is always “on” – even when you’re sleeping. As one of the most complex organs in the body, the brain needs to be fueled properly in order to tell the other systems in your body what to do. This is where nutrition comes in for overall brain health and function.

What exactly is brain health? According to the National Institute on Aging, “brain health refers to how well a person’s brain functions across several areas.” These aspects of brain health include: 

  • Cognitive health
  • Motor function
  • Emotional function
  • Tactile function

While many factors go into determining a person’s brain health, food and nutrition play an active role in supporting a healthy mind. With senior living communities in Illinois, Ohio and Indiana, Franciscan Ministries is sharing the importance of nutrition for brain health and what foods can promote a healthy brain.

Why is Nutrition Important for Brain Health?

There is a direct relationship between what we eat and our overall brain health. For example, if we consume a balanced diet of healthy foods high in vitamins, minerals and nutrients, this supports a healthy brain. On the other hand, continuously eating highly processed foods or large amounts of refined sugars can negatively impact brain health.

For example, fueling your mind and body with healthy foods could improve memory, thinking, mood, concentration and learning. According to Frontiers, “a healthy diet can increase the production of new neurons, a process called neurogenesis. What we eat can also affect the synaptic plasticity of the brain.” Simply put, synaptic plasticity is the number of connections between the neurons in the brain. The more connections that are formed, the better your cognitive functioning will be.

What Foods Support Brain Health?

There is a lot of conflicting information available out there, and there are several diets that claim to be the best for whatever your health goals may be. The problem with these is that they do not work because they are usually “quick fixes,” and the results are not long-lasting. The truth is, there is no magic food that guarantees brain health. Instead, it is about consistently making healthy choices and lifestyle changes that support brain health.

With this being said, some foods do contain nutrients the brain needs to function properly.

Leafy Green Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, collards and broccoli provide great nutrition for brain health. These foods contain nutrients the brain needs, including vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta carotene. 

Additionally, leafy green vegetables contain glucosinolates, which the body breaks down to produce isothiocyanates. Medical News Today states, “isothiocyanates may reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.”

According to Harvard Health Publishing, “research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline.”


If you ever wondered where berries got their coloring, the answer is flavonoid antioxidants. When consumed through berries, these natural pigments also help improve and preserve memory. In fact, Harvard Health Publishing reported that in “a study published in Annals of Neurology, researchers at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week delayed memory decline by up to two-and-a-half years.”

The antioxidants found in berries have other brain health benefits, including:

  • Improve communication between brain cells
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Increase synaptic plasticity
  • Reduce or delay age-related neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline

Whole Grains

The United Brain Association states, “a diet packed with whole grain-rich foods promotes cardiovascular health, which promotes improved [blood flow] to the brain.” Additionally, whole grains are a good source of vitamin E, a nutrient known for its importance for overall brain health. 

Whole-grain foods include: 

  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Whole-grain pasta


Turmeric is a spice that has many benefits to brain health and memory. Its active ingredient, curcumin, directly enters the brain and positively affects the cells there. Curcumin is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that has many benefits, including boosting memory, stimulating the growth of new brain cells and easing depression.

Research has shown that turmeric, with curcumin, “may help improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s…[and] may help clear the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of this disease (Healthline).”

All aspects of our health are connected. By maintaining a healthy diet, you are promoting brain health and improving your overall health and wellness. 

At Franciscan Communities, our dining services incorporate nutritious ingredients into delicious meals to contribute to residents’ healthy, active lifestyles. To learn more about our communities, we invite you to visit our website or contact a member of our team.