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A Harvard nutritionist shares the No. 1 food she eats every morning to help her brain ‘stay sharp’ and ‘age well’
Eating the right “brain-boosting foods” can significantly decrease your risk of developing neurological problems, improve your mental health, and help you stay sharp and focused.
As a nutritional psychiatrist, a big part of my job is advising patients — especially those who want to improve their brain health or are trying to recover from trauma — about foods they should incorporate into their daily diet.
And there are so many options, from leafy greens like spinach and kale to nuts like almonds and walnuts. But through my years of research, I’ve found one to be the most beneficial when it comes to helping your brain age well: blueberries.
The brain-boosting benefits of blueberries
I suggest adding 1/2 to one cup per day. Frozen blueberries are just as good as long as they don’t have added sugars, juice or preservatives.
Versatile, accessible and absolutely scrumptious, here’s why I love eating blueberries every morning:
1. They are high in flavonoids
Blueberries are packed with flavonoids, which are plant compounds that offer a variety of health benefits. Studies have found it can lower your risk for dementia.
People who eat a diet that includes at least half a serving per day of foods high in flavonoids may have a 20% lower risk of cognitive decline, according to a 2021 study that surveyed 49,493 women with an average age of 48, and 27,842 men with an average age of 51.
2. They are packed with antioxidants.
Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that gives these berries their characteristic color. Anthocyanins support a healthy stress tolerance and anti-inflammation throughout the body, particularly in the brain.
The antioxidant phytonutrients — that is, plant nutrients — found in blueberries also quell inflammation in the body and brain, and protect cells from damage.
3. They are rich in fiber.
I frequently speak about the profound connection between our gut and our brain — or what I call the “gut-brain romance.”
Like antioxidants, fiber decreases inflammation and feeds the “good bacteria” in the gut. Blueberries are rich in fiber, allowing them to improve our microbiome health and reduce inflammation in the gut and the brain.
4. They contain folate
Folate is an important vitamin that allows neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers within our brain that govern mood and cognition, to function properly.
Where a deficiency of folate may underlie some neurological conditions, improving folate status has beneficial effects on our mental health, brain health and cognitive age.
How to incorporate blueberries into your diet
I love carrying a small container of blueberries in my bag as a healthy snack for when I’m on the go. But if you want to get creative with your blueberry intake, here are two of my favorite recipes:
Watermelon and Blueberry Ice Pops
These simple homemade ice pops are soothing because of their cool, lightly sweet taste. Watermelons are also rich in antioxidants and vitamins A, B and C. These treats can be made with almond milk for a creamier texture or coconut milk for added flavor.
Servings: 6 to 8 pops
Prep time: 10 minutes
- 2 cups seeded, chopped watermelon
- 1 cup almond or coconut milk (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon lime zest
- 1/4 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
- Puree the watermelon with the milk, if using, in a blender.
- Stir in the lime juice, lime zest and honey.
- Pour into stainless‐steel ice-pop molds until each mold is two‐thirds full, leaving room for the blueberries.
Chia Pudding Topped With Nuts and Blueberries
Chia pudding is a great way to start the day and doesn’t require any early-morning prep. Since it has to be set in the fridge overnight, you can prepare it the night before.
Prep time: 10 minutes
- 1/2 cup organic canned light coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- A handful of blueberries and nuts
- Pour the coconut milk into a mason jar and stir in the honey, vanilla and cinnamon. Sprinkle the chia seeds on top.
- Screw the lid of the mason jar on and shake well so that the seeds mix with the milk.
- Chill overnight in the fridge.
- Serve topped with blueberries and nuts.
Dr. Uma Naidoo is a nutritional psychiatrist, brain expert, and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. She is also the Director of Nutritional & Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of the best-selling book “This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More.” Follow her on Twitter @DrUmaNaidoo.