Bastyr University adheres to a whole-food philosophy that guides all of its nutrition programs, emphasizing the consumption of a variety of food in their least-processed forms. When assessing health and wellness, the university integrates mind, body, and spirit by drawing connections between whole food, exercise science and health psychology.

This month, Dr. Shanshan Chen, Assistant Professor of Nutrition from Bastyr talks about how what you eat can affect your brain power.

A well-nourished brain is one of your greatest assets when it comes to feeling and performing your best.

Image: Olivia Hayo

Even though there's no magic food that can guarantee a sharp brain at all times, certain foods and drinks are particularly rich in neuroprotective components and nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, and polyphenols, can support cognitive functions over the course of a lifetime.

Fatty Fish

Fish is often described as "brain food" as cold water, fatty fish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Eating fish two to three times a week can be beneficial for improving brain function and development, especially among people with memory problems.

Aim for varieties that are sustainable and have low levels of mercury, such as wild-caught salmon, fresh tuna, mackerel, and fresh sardines.

Try this recipe for hot smoked salmon salad (pictured).

Image: Olivia Hayo
Image: Olivia Hayo

Aptly shaped like mini-brains, walnuts are a rich source of nutrient and bioactive compounds that have been shown to boost brain health throughout life.

For example, every 100 g of walnuts contains 9 g of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid. ALA can be converted by the body to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the most abundant type of omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain, which is important in maintaining nerve cell structure and function.

On top of that, walnuts contain other neuroprotective nutrients such as polyphenols, vitamin E, carotenoids, and a variety of minerals.

Integrating walnuts into a healthy diet can be an effective means of slowing the process of brain aging and reducing the risk of chronic neurodegenerative disease.


Eggs contain high amounts of several key nutrients tied to brain health, including vitamin B-6, B-12, folate, vitamin D, and choline (a powerful nutrient that plays a vital role in a range of brain functions).

In a large population study, researchers from Boston University and Harvard found that people whose diets included a lot of choline were more likely to do well on memory and cognitive ability tests.

Consume eggs in moderation. One whole egg per day is plenty.

Image: Alexa Soto

It's no secret that berries are good for you. Other than being loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, berries are also high in flavonoids, the natural plant pigments that give berries their brilliant colors.

Flavonoids have been shown to improve memory, too.

Based on a large study in the US, a team of researchers from Harvard Brigham and Women's Hospital found that two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week can delay memory decline by up to 2.5 years among elderly women.

Treat yourself to this vegan berry crumble (pictured).

Warm Spices

Researchers have discovered that many of the spices that add a special touch of your favorite food also confer the gift of brain health.

For example, cinnamon intake has been linked to improved memory, increased attention, and enhanced cognitive processing.

Nutmeg seems to help slow cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer's disease and promote the recovery of brain tissue following a stroke.

Ginger may protect brain cells from deterioration associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Sprinkle a pinch or two onto foods and beverages you already love, like oatmeal or lattes, or try this fresh ginger dressing atop beet and avocado salad (pictured).

Image: Olivia Hayo
Tea and Coffee

The caffeine in your morning cup of tea or coffee might offer more than short-term mental focus and concentration.

According to a study by scientists at Johns Hopkins University, participants taking a 200-mg caffeine pill (roughly the amount of caffeine in one 12-oz cup of coffee), were more likely to correct complete memory tasks compared to those who took a placebo.

In other words, enjoying one eight-ounce cup of tea or coffee each day (That's right, one cup. Everything in moderation!) could help boost your memory and cognitive skills over the long-term.

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