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Your brain requires sufficient nutrients to function normally. According to Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute, proper nutrition is essential for normal cognition, or thinking skills. A healthy diet that is low in fat and high in essential nutrients reduces the risk of memory loss, helps prevent strokes and boosts alertness.

Helps Memory

The vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals contained in fruits and vegetables may help your memory. Registered dietitian Joy Bauer says that the more produce you eat, the better off your memory will be. Folic acid, a B vitamin found in peas, broccoli, spinach, artichokes, beets and oranges, appears to be particularly helpful. Additionally, a diet that includes omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fatty fish like salmon, may protect your memory as you age. In a review of 15 studies published in the March 2009 issue of "Nature Clinical Practice Neurology," eating fish or taking omega-3 supplements was associated with slower cognitive decline in elderly people.

Boosts Alertness

Your brain needs a steady supply of glucose, or sugar, to concentrate and stay alert. Carbohydrates are the best source of this fuel. Certain dietary minerals, including magnesium, manganese and iron, are needed for your body to metabolize glucose, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. A deficiency in iron also prevents adequate oxygen delivery to the brain, which can cause fatigue and poor mental performance. Iron is found in animal and plant foods, but the type of iron in animal foods is best utilized by the body. Top sources of this type of iron are chicken and beef liver, oysters and dark-meat turkey.

Prevents Stroke

Good nutrition helps ensure a proper supply of blood to the brain, lowering the risk of a stroke, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. A stroke can impair cognitive function. Because oxygen and nutrients are carried in the bloodstream, anything that blocks the supply of blood to the brain, such as plaque on artery walls, can injure brain cells. A heart-healthy diet will reduce the risk of a stroke because heart health and brain health go hand-in-hand. This means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish and reducing consumption of red meat and fatty foods.


To protect your brain, it's wise to limit fast food, which tends to be high in fat, cholesterol and sodium. Sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke, and saturated fat and cholesterol can clog arteries, triggering a stroke. In a study published in the August 2009 issue of the "Annals of Neurology," the risk of stroke in a Texas neighborhood increased by 1 percent for every fast food restaurant in the neighborhood. You may also want to limit processed foods -- a diet high in processed foods was associated with cognitive impairment in a study published in the October 2012 issue of "Nutrients." Finally, it's important to maintain a healthy weight, since obesity has been linked to increased cognitive aging.