Foods to Benefit Cognition

By Laura Vasquez, MSN, APRN, NP-C

A variety of foods can help protect your cognitive health and act in very specific ways in the body.

Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are rising. Characteristics of neurodegenerative diseases include loss of neurons and the build-up of neuro-toxic substances in the brain. Neurotoxicity is caused by exposure to natural or man-made toxic substances and can impact cognitive health. It decreases blood flow and creates inflammation, oxidative stress, and the inability to regenerate healthy neurons. Symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases include memory loss, moodiness, anxiety, depression, and agitation. [1]

Dietary choices can help prevent neurodegenerative disease by promoting healthy neurons. Nutrition is a foundational principle in prevention that can have long-reaching effects. There are several ways that the foods we eat can impact the health of our cells. Below, I will discuss beneficial foods that can help preserve, regenerate, and promote cognitive health.

  1. Foods that protect the DNA can help preserve healthy cells and reduce the cellular damage that can lead to neurological disorders. Berries, including blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackcurrant, are all loaded with polyphenols and antioxidants, which are able to cross the blood-brain barriers to reduce oxidative stress in the cells. Berries can inhibit brain inflammation processes, leading to neurodegenerative diseases. [2]
  2. Most neurodegenerative diseases exhibit inflammation, as seen with most chronic diseases. Anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce apoptosis (cellular death) and promote healthy cells. Look for Omega 3s from fish and plant-based sources. Consuming enough Omega 3s has been shown to promote cognitive well-being and improve memory recall and learning. Cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines contain the highest amounts of EPA/DHA, which reduce inflammatory cytokines. Plant-based sources, such as nuts and seeds, also provide anti-inflammatory effects. The FDA recommends consuming 3 grams daily of Omega 3s from food and a supplement source. [3]
  3. A balanced gut microbiome is crucial for several neurological processes, including neurogenesis, mood and behavior, cognition, myelination, and microglia activation. Beneficial foods include greens, sauerkraut, mushrooms, and cruciferous vegetables. Multiple studies regarding Alzheimer’s disease and the gut microbiome demonstrate dysbiosis (unbalanced beneficial bacteria) compared to healthy participants. Other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, also demonstrate the connection between the health of the bacterial ecosystem and the pathological changes in neurons leading to these diseases. [4]
  4. Stem cells are intricate to our survival. Each organ system regenerates new cells within a specified timeframe. A loss of brain stem cells has been identified as playing a role in the onset of dementia. Microglia cells develop from a special kind of stem cell and are responsible for removing toxins and plaques from your brain. Other types of stem cells regenerate new neurons. Foods that benefit stem cells can assist in regenerating healthy neurons. These include apples, onions, herbs such as rosemary, coffee, and purple-pigmented foods.
  5. Controlling angiogenesis – the formation of new blood vessels – can help increase blood flow and improve cognitive function. In the appropriate manner, angiogenesis can promote the removal of toxins through increased blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients. There are certain diseases, such as cancer, where you may want to promote more
    anti-angiogenesis to cut off the blood supply to the tumor. Foods that promote angiogenesis include apples, onions, ginseng, and seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, and chia).

In conclusion, food choices can greatly impact your brain health, help prevent degenerative neurological diseases, and benefit your body and health in other ways. The book “Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself” by Dr. William Li, MD, can be a good resource.


  2. Subash S, Essa MM, Al-Adawi S, Memon MA, Manivasagam T, Akbar M. Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural Regen Res. 2014 Aug 15;9(16):1557-66. doi: 10.4103/1673-5374.139483. PMID: 25317174; PMCID: PMC4192974.
  3. Dighriri IM, Alsubaie AM, Hakami FM, Hamithi DM, Alshekh MM, Khobrani FA, Dalak FE, Hakami AA, Alsueaadi EH, Alsaawi LS, Alshammari SF, Alqahtani AS, Alawi IA, Aljuaid AA, Tawhari MQ. Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review. Cureus. 2022 Oct 9;14(10):e30091. doi: 10.7759/cureus.30091. PMID: 36381743; PMCID: PMC9641984.
  4. AUTHOR=Zhang Haoming, Chen Yijia, Wang Zifan, Xie Gaijie, Liu Mingming, Yuan Boyu, Chai Hongxia, Wang Wei, Cheng Ping TITLE=Implications of Gut Microbiota in Neurodegenerative Diseases JOURNAL=Frontiers in Immunology VOLUME=13 YEAR=2022 URL=  DOI=10.3389/fimmu.2022.785644 ISSN=1664-3224
  5. Eat to Beat Disease: How the Body Can Heal Itself by Dr. William Li, MD