The #1 Best Snack to Keep Your Brain Sharp, Say Dietitians
It's an unfortunate reality: the brain, like everything else, changes with age. That may help explain why you have more trouble multitasking or occasionally forget where you put your keys as you get older. While some behaviors, like not getting enough sleep, can increase your risk of cognitive decline—others can support brain health. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), certain lifestyle changes can prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases. One of those changes includes healthy snacking. According to dietitians, a combo of blueberries and walnuts provides just the powerhouse combo of nutrients you need to keep your brain sharp.
"The best snack for brain health is going to be a plant-based snack—one that is low in saturated fat and high in micronutrients," says Rebecca Schilling, RD, founder of Dietitians Delivered. "Berries are high in antioxidants and keep the brain safe from free radicals. Nuts provide vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, which again are associated with improved cognitive function."
The benefits of blueberries for your brain
Kitty Broihier, RD, the creator of the Eating Habits Lab and nutrition advisor for the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, says wild blueberries, in particular, may help improve memory and executive function. According to Broihier, wild blueberries contain 33% more anthocyanins, a specific type of antioxidant, than regular cultivated blueberries.
"Studies have indicated benefits in verbal performance, memory discrimination, and a trend toward reduced risk of cognitive decline in subjects who ate blueberries," she explains.
A 2019 review in Advances in Nutrition found that eating more blueberries was associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in older adults.
How walnuts can keep your brain sharp
As for nuts, a 2014 study in The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging found that older women who ate five or more servings of nuts per week had the brainpower of women two years younger. And other research has shown that eating them on the regular may lower your risk of Alzheimer's disease, among many other cognitive perks.
Walnuts, specifically, are an excellent pick when it comes to protecting your brain, says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, co-author of Sugar Shock. There's evidence that eating walnuts may improve performance on cognitive function tests for memory, concentration, and information processing speed in adults.
"Both inflammation and oxidative stress play a part in brain aging, and the omega-3s and antioxidants in walnuts guard against these effects," explains Cassetty.
A 2020 study in the Journal of Aging Research discovered that women who consumed at least two servings of walnuts per week during their late 50s and early 60s were more likely to age healthfully—including having no memory impairment—compared to those who didn't eat walnuts.
"Toasted walnuts are my go-to snack because they taste amazing on their own, but they also pair well with other brain-sharpening foods," says Cassetty.
Ways to eat blueberries and walnuts for brain health
Mix fresh or dried blueberries with walnuts for a simple trail mix you can enjoy on the go, toss them into a smoothie, or sprinkle them onto yogurt, oats, and chia pudding. However you choose to snack on these nutrient-packed superfoods, rest assured that your brain will thank you.