Adequate sleep, plenty of exercise and even brain-training games can help keep your gray matter healthy and your memory sharp as you age. So can what you put on your plate — or in your to-go cup or smoothie.

These foods have been found to help stave off cognitive decline. Enjoy!


Turmeric, the peppery, slightly bitter spice popular in Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisine, contains curcumin, an antioxidant compound known for fighting inflammation in the body. New research shows turmeric also may protect memory, especially when forgetfulness is linked to high blood sugar levels.

Researchers in Taiwan tested working memory (an important aspect of short-term memory that’s a good barometer of thinking and reasoning ability) in older test subjecst with pre-diabetes. Then they gave them a 1-gram capsule of turmeric. (Other subjects took capsules of cinnamon, cinnamon plus turmeric or a placebo.) Six hours later the researchers repeated the tests. Working memory in the people who took the turmeric, but not in the others, improved.

"The increase in working memory was about ten percent. Clearly the turmeric was beneficial," says Mark Wahlqvist, MD, lead author of the study and chief of medicine at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

According to Wahiqvist, you need to add only a little of this spice — 1 gram, or about 1¼ teaspoons — to your life each day to get the brain benefits. Sprinkle it on rice, mix a bit into scrambled eggs, stir some into soup. Unlike curcumin extracts, says Wahiqvist, "We consider it turmeric safe.” Tasty too.

Related: The 8 Best Foods to Eat For Depression

Spinach — or kale, collards or mustard greens

Dark leafy greens are tagged "super foods" for a reason: They're "nutrient dense," meaning they deliver more nutrients per forkful than most other foods.

spinachMartha Clare Morris, ScD, the epidemiologist who developed the Alzheimer's prevention MIND diet, zeroed in on which components of these green leafy vegetables might slow the decline in cognitive ability and memory that occurs with aging

When her team tracked the diets and cognitive abilities of 954 people for five years, they found those who ate one to two servings of greens a day had the brain power of people a decade younger who didn't eat leafy green vegetables.

The components of these foods that likely protect against memory loss and other changes in brain function are vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotene, Morris reported at a meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.

Slow brain aging by putting greens on your plate or in your smoothie, Dr. Morris advises getting "about one serving a day, six days a week. A serving is one cup of fresh greens or one-half cup cooked greens." (Photo: Gayvoronskaya_Yana/Shutterstock)

Related: 10 Foods to Eat for Eye Health


hot cocoaCocoa is rich in antioxidant compounds called flavonols, which appear to help slow age-related memory loss. In one study, scientists at Columbia University used MRIs and memory tests to evaluate the effects of cocoa flavonols. For three months, the 50- to 69-year-old study participants were divided into two groups. One group took in 900 milligrams per day of cocoa flavonols through a special beverage. The other group got only 10 milligrams per day. The high-flavonol group not only scored significantly better on the memory tests, but a part of their brains associated with memory — the dentate gyrus — functioned better as well.

Similarly, in an Italian study, 90 elderly people drank high-, medium- or low-flavonol cocoa drinks daily for eight weeks. All three groups showed improvement in tests of cognitive function, but the high-dose group's scores topped the rest.

Instead of ordering a latte with an extra shot, consider having a hot cocoa during your coffee break. (Photo: Sunny Forest/Shutterstock)

Related: Is Dark Chocolate Really a Health Food?


blueberriesTo boost your brainpower, pick berries for your plate. Animal research has shown blueberries can help boost brain health, thanks to anthocyanin, a flavonoid that gives the fruit their blue hue. Now a new study, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, suggests blueberries can do the same for human brains.

Volunteers drank 15 to 21 ounces of wild blueberry juice every day for 12 weeks. (The amount of juice each person downed was based on their body weight.). At the end of the 12 weeks, the participants’ scores on tests of word recall and learning ability improved significantly.

To get the brain benefits of blueberry juice, lead researcher Robert Krikorian, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, says drinking one-half to one cup two to three times a week should do the trick. Since anthocyanin levels in blueberry juice tend to fall if it sits in the fridge too long, if you buy it, drink it. Don't hide it behind the milk. (Photo: Alex Staroseltsev/Shutterstock)

Related: Want to Cut Your Risk of 5 Major Killers? Eat Berries

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Dianne Lange is a Lake Tahoe-based freelance writer specializing in health and travel. She is the author of four books on cancer and a former editor at SELF, Health, Natural Health and Prevention. Her work has appeared on websites such as,, WebMD and Everyday Health.