The One Fruit Dietitians Want You to Eat for a Sharper Mind

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While there are many foods that can support brain health, nutrition experts agree that blueberries rank high.
Image Credit: Betsie Van der Meer/DigitalVision/GettyImages

If you routinely forget where you put your keys or why you walked into a room, then it's time to start thinking about amping up your nutrition to help your brain out.

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The research on links between brain function and nutrition is exploding — and it turns out that your diet has an effect on cognition, memory and your risk of getting dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

We polled registered dietitians on the one fruit you should eat more often for neuroprotection. Their opinions are rooted in evidence-based research on the role of food and brain health.

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Why Blueberries Are Good for Your Brain

1. They're Rich in Antioxidants

"A daily handful (or more) of blueberries is ideal for keeping the brain healthy and young brain," says Cheryl Mussatto, RDN and author of The Nourished Brain. "It's one strategy to forestall or possibly reverse age-related cognitive deficits."

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Blueberries contain antioxidants called flavonoids that are largely responsible for the brain health benefits seen in research. A June 2021 systematic review in the ​International Journal of Molecular Sciences​ found that the compounds in berries are linked to reduced cognitive decline and improvements in memory. It's important to note that the majority of the studies in the review tested with blueberries, blueberry powder or juice.

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"Blueberries provide anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant linked with anti-inflammatory properties, explains registered dietitian Lisa Andrews, RD. "As part of the MIND diet, blueberries are an excellent snack for brain health."

Mussato agrees: "Thanks to the polyphenolic compounds found in this sweet berry, oxidative stress and inflammation are lowered helping destroy free radicals that can damage brain cells."

And we can thank the anthocyanins in blueberries for the fruit's health-promoting effects, not just on cognition and neuroprotection, but also for reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, along with weight maintenance, per a March 2020 review in ​Advances in Nutrition.

2. They're Tied to a Lower Risk of Neurodegenerative Diseases

The MIND diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. As you can see, it is a blend of the Mediterranean diet pattern and the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. That's all the acronyms for now.

The MIND diet burst onto the diet scene less than 10 years ago and a February 2015 study in Alzheimer's and Dementia found that strictly sticking to it was associated with a 53 percent reduced risk of dementia. Get excited folks, because even following the diet moderately was linked to a 35 percent reduced risk. Those are good numbers.

"Blueberries are a great snack for brain health," says registered dietitian Christina Iaboni, RD. "Both the MIND Diet and Mediterranean diet have been shown to have brain-protective benefits, and blueberries are part of both diets. The MIND diet specifically suggests eating berries two or more times per week."

3. They're Linked to Better Mood

Blueberries of all types have been studied also for their effects on mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Freeze-dried blueberry powder was used to study mood symptoms in children and young adults. Researchers observed that blueberries improved depression symptoms in both groups, but there was no change in anxiety, according to a February 2017 report in Nutrients.

Similar findings came out of a March 2020 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, where 12 to 17-year-olds were given wild blueberry powder and reported fewer depressive symptoms after only 4 weeks.

And, a review that looked at the effects of berry polyphenols on cognitive function saw that various forms of blueberry was linked to improved cognitive function in older adults, according to a 2022 review in Scientific Reports.

Tip

While blueberries show promising effects on mood disorders, eating them doesn't replace taking medication. If you're on medication for depression, anxiety or another condition, don't quit your meds without talking to your doctor first.

How Many Blueberries Should You Eat?

First of all, you don't need to eat blueberries every day. It's very beneficial to have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, as produce is rich in powerful antioxidants.

But if you want to add more berries to your diet, Mussato says that a handful of blueberries will do the trick for a healthy brain.

This is right in line with what research shows: March 2020 research in Advances in Nutrition found that just a 1/3 cup of blueberries daily — fresh or frozen — imparts health benefits. So you could combine this serving and have a cup of blueberries a few times a week and still gain the health perks.

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