• fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, honey on a plate and cutting board with pink tulips

Can foods such as chocolate or coffee really improve your memory? Studies have shown that foods with antioxidants or anti-inflammatory properties, like coffee and certain chocolate, improve brain function.1-5 Here are five foods that are beneficial for brain health that you most likely have in your pantry or fridge:

  1. Fish

Fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids which are beneficial for brain health and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.1 Specifically, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, is important for brain health. It has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which decrease the amount of cytokines in the body. This is important because too many cytokines can be harmful and produce more inflammation.

  1. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate (70% or greater cocoa) is an excellent source of antioxidants which can improve brain functioning.2 It improves mood by decreasing cortisol, the stress hormone. It also contains two important ingredients including flavonoids and methylxanthines. These have been shown to improve cognitive function due to their antioxidant properties.

  1. Mixed nuts

Nuts contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.3 Because of this, nuts have been shown to increase cognitive function. They are also high in α-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid, which has been shown to be important in brain function.

  1. Blueberries

Blueberries have been shown to improve memory and attention in older adults.4 They are a good source of antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory. Anthocyanins, the pigment in blueberries that give them their blue and purple color, have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They have been shown to improve memory in older adults.

  1. Coffee

Caffeine, found in black coffee, has been shown to increase brain performance because it also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.5 An important compound in coffee are polyphenols which promotes brain health including improved memory and concentration and reduces cognitive decline.


Not only is nutrition important for healthy brain function, but it also reduces the risk of chronic diseases.6 It is essential in older adults for reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Eating the right foods will help individuals maintain a healthy weight thus reducing the risk for disease. Be mindful of the nutrients you are putting into your body.

It is important to limit foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium.6 This includes foods such as cakes, cookies, candy, sausage, bacon, and canned soups.

Include foods high in potassium, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and fiber to meet nutrient needs. Sources rich in these nutrients include milk, leafy greens, nuts, fish, eggs, and animal meat.

Choose foods high in protein to maintain muscle mass because this decreases with age.6 Good sources include poultry, fish, eggs, yogurt, milk, nuts, peanut butter, and tofu.

It is also vital to drink water often because older adults tend to lose their sense of thirst as they get older.6 Milk or 100% fruit juice are good beverage choices. It is recommended to get at least 6-8 cups of fluid a day.

Our taste buds change as a natural process of aging, so sense of taste will decrease.7 This may also be increased with medications, antibiotics, or chemotherapy. This lack of taste may cause individuals to not eat a variety of healthy foods. This can lead to unintentional weight loss or not getting enough calories and nutrients. Herbs and spices such as thyme, sage, garlic, and ginger can be added for a stronger taste.

Physical Movement

Physical activity is beneficial for older adults for many reasons. As we get older, our bone mass decreases which increases the risk for fractures.8 However, physical activity is important for bone health and can prevent breaking bones or falling. It can also reduce the risk for many chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and colon cancer. Not only is physical movement beneficial for physical health, but also for mental health. It can decrease symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression and increase overall mood.

It is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity.9 Moderate activity may include brisk walking and vigorous activity includes running, hiking, or jogging. Incorporate activities that improve balance such as standing on one leg or walking backwards. At least two of the days should include activities that strengthen all major muscle groups. This includes legs, back, hips, chest, abdomen, arms, and shoulders. Having strong muscles is important to be able to do things independently and not rely on other people as much. Nonetheless, any movement is better than none!

Aging is an inevitable part of life, and incorporating balanced nutrition and physical activity can make a positive difference in the way we feel.


1. Ajith TA. A recent update on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in Alzheimer's Disease. Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2018;13(4):252-260.

2. Sumiyoshi E, Matsuzaki K, Sugimoto N, et al. Sub-chronic consumption of dark chocolate enhances cognitive function and releases nerve growth factors: A parallel-group randomized trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2800.

3. Melzer TM, Manosso LM, Yau SY, et al. In pursuit of healthy aging: Effects of nutrition on brain function. Int J Mol Sci. 2021;22(9):5026.

4. Subash S, Essa MM, Al-Adawi S, et al. Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural Regen Res. 2014;9(16):1557-66.

5. Iriondo-DeHond A, Uranga JA, Del Castillo MD, et al. Effects of coffee and its components on the gastrointestinal tract and the brain-gut axis. Nutrients. 2020;13(1):88. 

6.“Older Adults.” MyPlate, https://www.myplate.gov/life-stages/older-adults.

7.“How Smell and Taste Change as You Age.” National Institute on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

8.“Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

9.“How Much Physical Activity Do Older Adults Need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Feb. 2023,


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