Nutrition and Brain Health

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

By Athena Nofziger, RDN, CSO, LD, Dietitian at Lumina Hospice & Palliative Care

Mediterranean Diet and Brain Health

Eating foods that increase inflammation such as high saturated fats foods and processed foods increase risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The same can also be said about brain health. Some studies show a decrease in cognitive performance in those that eat processed meats and fried foods.  There is evidence that suggests a Mediterranean diet improves cognitive function and reduces risk of Alzheimer’s as well as dementia.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is not a strict eating plan. The diet focuses on eating healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains. Many people think the Mediterranean diet is a vegetarian diet. The diet actually emphasizes plant-based protein sources and seafood instead of red meat. Red meat can still be enjoyed in moderation.  Poultry, eggs and dairy are also important protein sources when following a Mediterranean Diet.

Food to Focus on for Brain Health

Leafy Greens

Leafy greens are rich in nutrients that have been shown to promote brain health. Leafy greens contain Vitamin K, Lutein, Folate and beta carotene.

Fatty Fish

Fish, specifically salmon is high in Omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are known to reduce overall inflammation but may also reduce the specific protein that damages the brain. Some people do not enjoy eating fish. Ground flax, chia, pumpkin seeds, avocados and walnuts are also sources of Omega-3 fats.


Berries are high in flavonoids which give them their rich color. Flavonoids are antioxidants that have been shown to delay memory decline.

Tea and Coffee

Surprisingly the caffeine in tea and coffee may improve short term memory and concentration. They also may solidify short term memories. Coffee and tea contain antioxidants which reduce inflammation. Adding sugar and cream to tea and coffee can counteract these healthful benefits.

Supplement Use for Brain Health

Some people are interested in taking supplements for brain health. The most common supplements taken for brain health are B vitamins, Vitamin D and Fish Oil. Many people safely take Vitamin D and Fish oil for other health conditions and they may also provide benefit for brain health. Typically, B-Vitamins are safe to take but really only necessary when there is a vitamin deficiency. A vitamin deficiency is diagnosed by a medical provider. It is important to discuss all supplements with your health care providers to make sure they are safe to take. There is no standard regimen of supplements recommended for brain health. A Mediterranean eating pattern and consuming a variety of foods may improve cognitive function and improve overall health.

About Athena

Athena has been the dietitian for Lumina for 3 years. She provides nutrition care to hospice patients to improve quality of life and help patients meet their nutrition goals at end of life. Athena also assists Lumina staff and local adult living facilities to provide nutrition care to Lumina patients. In addition to working for Lumina, Athena works for the Samaritan Cancer Program providing nutrition care to cancer survivors. She also owns her own wellness consulting business and provides wellness services to local organizations and businesses.


Fortune N, Harville E, Dietary intake and cognitive function: evidence from the Bogalusa Heart Study. The Am J of Clinical Nutrition 2019; 109: 1656-1663

Karstens A, Tussing-Humphreys L, Associations of the Mediterranean diet with cognitive and neuroimaging phenotypes of dementia in healthy older adults. The Am J of Clinical Nutrition 2019; 109: 361-368

Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health-

Foods Linked to Better Brain Power-

Agnew-Blais Wassertheil-Smoller S, Folate, Vitamin B-6, and Vitamin B12 Intake and Mild Cognitive Impairment and Probably Dementia in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study.  J Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2015; 115: 231-241.

Today’s dietitian: The MIND Diet-Fighting Dementia Food –