Healthy Drinks

‘I’m a Dietitian, and These Are the 5 Brain-Boosting Beverages I Drink To Support My Cognitive Health As I Age’

Photo: Stocksy/Andrew Urwin
Health experts routinely advise upping your intake of foods packed with brain-boosting nutrients, which include the likes of salmon, nuts, and leafy greens. But did you know that there’s a bevy of beverages you can rely on to support cognition, as well?

To help you sip your way to improvements in memory and alertness—as well as reduce your risk of cognitive decline as the years pass—we asked New York–based dietitian Bianca Tamburello, RDN, to share her own go-to brain-boosting beverages.

5 RD-approved brain-boosting beverages

1. Turmeric latte

Instantly recognizable from its deeply pigmented gold hue, turmeric is a revered spice in Indian cuisine that’s also delicious when served in the form of turmeric lattes. The spice is famous in the nutrition community for its wide-ranging health benefits—with brain-boosting potential among them—largely thanks to curcumin, its active ingredient. “In an 18-month study, participants who were given Theracurmin, a form of curcumin, twice daily experienced improved memory and increased attention,” Tamburello says. She notes that two of curcumin’s properties are likely to facilitate these benefits: “Its anti-inflammatory effects, which decrease harmful chronic inflammation; and its antioxidant effects, which combat free radicals that can damage body cells.”

As an added bonus, Tamburello says that curcumin may increase dopamine and serotonin levels for a natural mood boost—so it’s well worth ordering or making your own turmeric latte. A word to the wise: Make sure to add a pinch of black pepper to the mix to increase curcumin's bioavailability by 2,000 percent (!).

2. Red wine

Who’s ready to kick off wine o’clock for the sake of improved brain function? “Studies show that responsible red wine consumption may have a positive impact on brain health, largely due to resveratrol, a potent antioxidant abundant in red wine,” Tamburello says (much to our delight). “Resveratrol offers protective effects to help shield brain cells from harmful substances. It also has anti-inflammatory properties to help combat chronic inflammation linked to certain diseases, and may aid improvements in memory and mood.” In addition, research shows that red wine consumption “is correlated with a reduction in the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases associated to oxidative stress such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.”

But before you get too excited about wine’s protective powers, Tamburello reminds us that drinking in excess is never the way to go and instead will work counter to your health goals—cognitive and otherwise. Of course, moderation is key, so it can help to shop for options that promote healthier imbibing. “As a registered dietitian, I recommend looking for a low-sugar red wine that comes in mini bottles for easy portion control,” she shares. And of course, Tamburello discourages anyone ever start drinking for the sake of health.

3. Mixed berry smoothies

Berries are tried and true antioxidant powerhouses, and blending them into a smoothie is a foolproof way to enjoy their flavors, support your daily fruit intake, and enjoy their multitude of benefits for your brain and greater well-being. “Blueberries are particularly beneficial because they’re especially high in anthocyanins, an antioxidant that gives berries their blue, purple, and red colors,” Tamburello says. In an observational study assessing berry intake in older adults over the course of 20 years, researchers found that those who reported greater consumption of blueberries and strawberries demonstrated slower rates of cognitive decline. These findings were largely credited to the high flavonoid content of berries, with anthocyanins and anthocyanidins among them.

Berries also work their magic to increase brain activity. “In a 2014 study, older adults who ate more blueberries and strawberries showed greater blood flow to the brain and experienced improved memory,” Tamburello says. Simply put, filling up on berries is one of the best things you can do to support long-term brain health—so stock up on a mixture of these fruits, whether fresh or frozen, and blend them into one of the most powerful brain-boosting beverages available.

4. Coffee

If the mere thought of freshly roasted coffee puts you in a good mood, you’ll be even more pleased to know that your morning cup not only helps you to perk up, but may also offer protection from age-related cognitive decline. “Caffeine is the component in coffee that can take credit for many of coffee’s brain-boosting benefits,” Tamburello says. “It boosts activity of the brain and spinal cord and makes us more alert by actively blocking adenosine, a natural chemical that causes that sleepy feeling.”

Better yet, Tamburello shares that caffeine intake can improve cognitive function and mood—the latter of which I can personally attest to as a firm “no talkie before coffee” kinda gal—as well as protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “One study shows that 38 to 400 mg of caffeine is the sweet spot in optimizing benefits and minimizing risks such as dehydration, headaches, and anxiety,” Tamburello adds, noting that one cup of coffee packs about 95 mg of caffeine.

Hot tip: If you enjoy tea instead of coffee, rest assured that a variety of teas (including but not limited to green tea) also offer brain-boosting benefits.

5. Water

Last but certainly not least, H2O earns a rightful spot on this dietitian-approved list of beverages for brain health. “We can’t talk about brain-boosting drinks without mentioning water and the importance of hydration, as the body cannot function properly without adequate water,” says Tamburello. “Even mild dehydration can tank energy levels, negatively impact cognitive performance and memory, and increase anxiety.”

Moreover, a small study of healthy female participants found that inadequate hydration was linked to an increased perception of task difficulty and a reduced ability to concentrate, as well as dips in mood. In other words, if you want to keep your brain sharp and manage your mood, fill (and refill) your water bottle regularly throughout the day.

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