13 Foods for Focus

Discover the power of these foods for benefits to your mental health, natural remedies for memory loss and improving concentration.

| March/April 2016

  • Creamy, pebbly-skinned avocado contains healthy fats that protect nerve cells in the brain.
    Photo by iStock
  • A daily serving of turmeric is around 1 rounded teaspoon. Eating curry is among the most effective ways to ingest turmeric.
    Photo by iStock/Phanuphong Thepnin
  • Look for cocoa powder that is not Dutch processed, as that method can damage the beneficial flavonoids.
    Photo by iStock
  • Bok choy is an excellent source of the B vitamin folate, shown to help reduce brain atrophy in older adults.
    Photo by iStock/Edward O'Neil
  • Research suggests that eating nutritious foods like avocado, gingko and blueberries can protect you from neurodegenerative disorders.
    Photo by iStock
  • Long marketed as the "brain herb," gingko's antioxidants improve blood circulation to the brain, and is widely used in Europe to treat dementia.
    Photo by iStock
  • Green tea is brimming with powerful antioxidants, and research suggests it may boost brain power as well.
    Photo by iStock
  • Just 13 grams of walnuts, eaten daily, can provide significant health benefits.
    Photo by iStock

Could eating the right foods help us stop forgetting names and misplacing keys? Fascinating research is emerging about certain foods’ abilities to improve cognitive performance and even lower the risk of neurodegenerative disorders. The 13 highly nutritious edibles in this article show exciting potential to help our brains stay healthy and function better.


The creamy avocado is actually a berry, and it’s packed with nutrients, as all berries tend to be. The flesh of the pebbly-skinned fruit contains high quantities of monounsaturated fatty acids (MFAs), healthy fats that help protect astrocytes—nerve cells in the brain that provide support to the information-carrying nerves—according to a study published in the journal Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. One-fifth of a medium avocado has 50 calories, almost 20 minerals and vitamins, and 3 grams of MFAs, so you can splurge and feel virtuous when the server at your favorite Mexican restaurant asks if you want to add guacamole to your meal.

Beet Juice

According to research conducted at Wake Forest University, the nitrate-rich juice of the beet root may help protect against dementia. Good bacteria in the mouth turn the juice’s nitrates into nitrites, which help increase blood flow to the brain; lack of oxygen to certain areas of the brain is thought to be a factor in dementia and poor cognitive abilities. Beets that are roasted or steamed lose some of their nutrients during cooking, but juicing preserves the vegetable’s phytonutrients. Use a juicer to extract the ruby red juice yourself, or purchase fresh beet juice at health-food stores. If you don’t care for beet juice’s flavor, blend it with fruit or other vegetable juices for a more palatable drink.


Blueberries have been shown to increase powers of concentration and decrease cognitive degeneration, and they may even slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, according to findings published in the journal Brain Research. The deeply colored berries are rich in the antioxidant compounds that fight cell-damaging free radicals and protect memory-associated brain regions from oxidant and inflammatory damage; as a result, overall cognitive function improves. Cooking the berries at 350 degrees or higher causes nutrient damage, so enjoy them raw or frozen to retain all of their vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes. Mary Ann Lila, a doctor, blueberry researcher and director of North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute, recommends eating 1 cup of raw blueberries every day to realize the fruit’s full health benefits.


Your morning cup of java might do more than jump-start your day. According to research conducted by Johns Hopkins University, consuming caffeine can have a positive effect on short- and long-term memory. When subjects consumed 200 milligrams of caffeine a day—about one strong cup of coffee—they were able to recognize more of the images they had viewed from the previous day’s study session than the participants who had no caffeine.


India has a low rate of Alzheimer’s disease, a finding some researchers attribute to its citizens’ penchant for eating curry. Though curry blends vary, all curry powders should contain plenty of golden turmeric, a root rich in the anti-inflammatory compound curcumin. One study found that those who ate curry often (more than once a month) or even occasionally (less than once a month) performed better on a cognitive function test than those who never ate curry. Further research is needed to determine whether eating turmeric could be a natural way to combat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but in the meantime, eating curry once or twice a month might be a delicious way to protect your brain.

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