Boost Your Memory Through Nutrition

Author: Lauren Grieco, MS, RD, LD

Posted: October 25, 2021

Whether you’re a student studying for exams, a working professional memorizing a speech, or a family member organizing a large event with moving pieces, having your brain function at max capacity is preferred. Research suggests that what we eat directly relates to cognition and memory performance. Certain foods can have protective effects on the brain with improved cognitive scores on exams and memory support for successful aging.

These nutrition and wellness tips are beneficial at any stage of life for enhanced brainpower!

1. Avoid eating an excessive amount of Added Sugar:

  • While sugar doesn't need to be eliminated from the diet, it is important to dine in moderation. This includes fast foods, pastries, and cakes, sugar-sweetened beverages (sodas, coffee drinks, juices), some sauces or dips.
  • Research has been studying the connection between consuming sugar-sweetened beverages and brain volume, performance on tests, and episodic memory.
  • Higher intakes of sugary beverages were related to lower total brain volume and poorer performance on tests of episodic memory. Daily fruit juice was associated with lower total brain volume, hippocampal volume, and poorer episodic memory (all P < .05)1.
2. Add Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
    • Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for several critical functions within the body. . The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA can be found in food sources and in dietary supplements like fish oil. Recently, fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have been associated with fetal development, cardiovascular function, and Alzheimer's disease2.
    • Seafood, algae, and fatty fish are some of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Try salmon, bluefin tuna, sardines, or herring. Replace other meats for fish twice a week for a healthy dose.
    • A systematic review found that the clinical evidence about omega-3 PUFAs’ preventive benefits on mood and anxiety disorders is supported by their regulatory effects on immunomodulation, anti-inflammation, signal transduction, neurotransmission and neuroprotection3
    • Another study found that a diet characterized by higher intakes of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, dark and green leafy vegetables), and a lower intake of foods low in omega-3 fatty acids (high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat, butter) was strongly associated with a lower AD risk4.
    • Another study showed that those who supplemented with fish oil showed significant improvement in short-term and working memory, immediate verbal memory, and delayed recall capability. Furthermore, the 12-month change in memory was significantly better in the fish oil group5.
    3. Try Meditation:
    • Meditation and mindfulness are two methods of improving cognition and memory. They are also critical stress reduction techniques.
    • Studies have found that meditation is It is relaxing and soothing, and has been found to reduce stress and pain, lower pressure and even improve memory6.
    • A systematic review involved a wide variety of meditation techniques and reported preliminary positive effects on attention, memory, executive function, processing speed, and general cognition. While most studies had a high risk of bias and small sample sizes, reported dropout rates were low and compliance rates high. The review concluded that meditation interventions for older adults are feasible, and preliminary evidence suggests that meditation can offset age-related cognitive decline7.
    4. Enjoy A Variety of Berries:
    • Fruits and vegetables contain a large form of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to support healthy bodies. Berries specifically have high doses of flavonoids and anthocyanins that both support memory and cognition.
    • Enjoy blackberries, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, and cranberries for added benefits for your brain.
    • Top your oatmeal, cereal, ice cream, or yogurt with a handful of berries!
    • One study found that greater intakes of blueberries and strawberries were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline and that berry intake appears to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years. Additionally, in further supporting evidence, greater intakes of anthocyanins and total flavonoids were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline8.
      5. Get a Full Night’s Rest:
      • Not surprisingly, getting enough sleep is crucial  for prime functioning cognition and memory. Sleep is where our minds work to process short term memories, make connections in what we've got have learned, and strengthen them to become long lasting memories.
      • One study in 2012 found that declarative memory is significantly improved by sleep in a sample of normal adolescents9. Declarative memory is critical in school performance and consequent social functioning in adolescents.

        6. Watch Excessive Alcohol Intake:

        • While enjoying a cocktail or glass of wine in moderation will not negatively impact your health, it is important to enjoy alcoholic beverages moderately.
        • Studies have found a relationship between binge drinking in students with episodic memory deficits. However, abandoning binge drink behaviors can result in partial recovery of episodic memory10.
        7. Maintain a Healthy Weight:
          • Maintaining a healthy BMI can have positive impacts on our overall health, including brain health. Several studies have found that higher BMIs within the obesity category can negatively influence memory.
          • One study found that  being obese can cause changes to memory-associated genes in the brain, negatively affecting memory11.
          • Another study testing memory included a total of 50 participants aged 18–35 years, with BMIs ranging from 18 to 51, were tested on a a completely unique what–where–when style personal memory test. Results found that higher BMI was associated with significantly lower performance on the what–where–when memory task12.
              8. Main Takeaways
              • Nutrition and wellness have an instantaneous relationship between cognition and memory abilities. Regardless of the age, it is important to eat well to support a healthy brain for successful aging. Students should follow these tips for better test-taking, and employees should follow these tips for enhanced work ethic and efficiency.

              Many of these tips are modifiable and are never too late to incorporate into your daily routine! Begin small with quality sleep and adding berries to your breakfast, your brain will thank you.


              1. Pase MP, Himali JJ, Jacques PF, et al. Sugary beverage intake and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease in the community. Alzheimers Dement J Alzheimers Assoc. 2017;13(9):955-964. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2017.01.024
              2. Swanson D, Block R, Mousa SA. Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life1. Adv Nutr. 2012;3(1):1-7. doi:10.3945/an.111.000893
              3. Su K-P, Matsuoka Y, Pae C-U. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Prevention of Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2015;13(2):129-137. doi:10.9758/cpn.2015.13.2.129
              4. Gu Y, Nieves JW, Stern Y, Luchsinger JA, Scarmeas N. Food combination and Alzheimer disease risk: a protective diet. Arch Neurol. 2010;67(6):699-706. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2010.84
              5. Lee LK, Shahar S, Chin A-V, Yusoff NAM. Docosahexaenoic acid-concentrated fish oil supplementation in subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI): a 12-month randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013;225(3):605-612. doi:10.1007/s00213-012-2848-0
              6. Sharma H. Meditation: Process and effects. Ayu. 2015;36(3):233-237. doi:10.4103/0974-8520.182756
              7. Gard T, Hölzel BK, Lazar SW. The potential effects of meditation on age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014;1307:89-103. doi:10.1111/nyas.12348
              8. Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MMB, Grodstein F. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann Neurol. 2012;72(1):135-143. doi:10.1002/ana.23594
              9. Potkin KT, Bunney WE. Sleep Improves Memory: The Effect of Sleep on Long Term Memory in Early Adolescence. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(8):e42191. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042191
              10. Carbia C, Cadaveira F, Caamaño-Isorna F, Rodríguez-Holguín S, Corral M. Binge drinking during adolescence and young adulthood is associated with deficits in verbal episodic memory. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0171393
              11. Heyward FD, Gilliam D, Coleman MA, et al. Obesity Weighs down Memory through a Mechanism Involving the Neuroepigenetic Dysregulation of Sirt1. J Neurosci. 2016;36(4):1324-1335. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1934-15.2016
              12. Cheke LG, Simons JS, Clayton NS. Higher body mass index is associated with episodic memory deficits in young adults. Q J Exp Psychol 2006. 2016;69(11):2305-2316. doi:10.1080/17470218.2015.1099163


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