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Best Foods for Dementia Patients to Eat

23 minute readLast updated March 15, 2024
fact checkedon March 15, 2024
Written by Melissa Bean, senior living writer
Medically reviewed by Lauri Grady, RN, BSN, CCM, CLCPLauri Grady, founder and president of LBG Care Consulting, has been a registered nurse for more than 30 years.
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A person’s diet may play a role in slowing cognitive decline. Research has shown that many foods can impact overall health and even help treat specific symptoms like those associated with dementia. Foods that decrease inflammation and support brain health are important for continued wellness but they may also slow or delay the onset of dementia. Beans, leafy vegetables, berries, and fish are just a few examples of the types of foods that, when incorporated into a balanced diet, can contribute to long-term cognitive benefits and prolonged health in seniors.

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Foods that help with dementia

Maintaining proper nutrition through a healthy diet is a critical part of dementia care. Incorporating the following foods into daily meals using senior-friendly recipes can offer numerous health benefits for seniors living with dementia.[01] Be sure to check with your loved one’s medical provider before making dietary changes or introducing new foods.

Beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes

Plant proteins and legumes can provide a variety of benefits to older adults.[02] Legumes offer important vitamins and minerals essential for optimal brain health. Vitamin B6 – commonly found in legumes, tofu, and soy-based foods – helps the body regulate sleep, appetite, and mood.[03]

Nuts are some of the best foods for dementia. Research indicates that a diet rich in walnuts can reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s disease and may delay its onset.[04] People who eat nuts have shown better long-term brain functioning in clinical studies.[05] Beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes are also a good source of vitamin E and minerals like magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, and potassium — which support various complex functions, including nerve health, and proper metabolism.[03]

You may consider adding the following foods that help with dementia-related illnesses: [06,07,08,09,10]

  • Beans and legumes: One cup of cooked lentils offers 16% of the nutritional daily value (DV) of potassium. Meanwhile, chickpeas can provide 39% of the DV of manganese.
  • Nuts: One ounce of hazelnuts provides 70% of the DV of manganese. Adding just 1 ounce of Brazil nuts to a daily diet results in consuming 989% of the DV of selenium. And just 1 ounce of almonds results in 45% of the DV for vitamin E.
  • Seeds: A 1-ounce serving of roasted pumpkin seeds can provide 37% of the DV of magnesium. And, adding 1 ounce of dry-roasted sunflower seeds to a person’s diet offers 49% of the DV of vitamin E.


Berries provide a mix of health benefits and taste-bud-tickling sweetness. For example, neurodegeneration — the loss of structure or function of the brain and nervous system — may be delayed or prevented by eating blueberries.[11]

Studies on neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia, offer solid evidence that many types of berries, such as the following examples, can improve brain function: [12]

  • Elderberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Black currants
  • Mulberries
  • Strawberries

Colorful fruits and vegetables

Consuming a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, or “eating the rainbow,” provides an array of nutrients critical to brain health.[13] Older adults who eat three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits daily have a lower risk of dementia.[14] “Eating the rainbow” can also help ensure a senior is getting a range of nutrients in their diet.

The following are examples of “rainbow” eating, with DVs of vitamins and minerals from the NIH: [06,07,15,16]

  • Red: A half-cup serving of sweet red pepper provides 106% of the DV for vitamin C, while half a cup of strawberries features 54% of the DV.
  • Orange: Half a cup of dried apricots provides 23% of the DV of potassium, while 1 cup of mashed acorn squash offers 14%.
  • Yellow: A half-cup serving of raw pineapple offers 35% of the DV of manganese.
  • Green: A medium-sized kiwi has 71% of the DV of vitamin C, while half a cup of sweet green peppers offers 67%.
  • Blue and purple: A half-cup serving of raw blueberries offers 13% of the DV of manganese, and half a cup of dried prunes provides 15% of the DV of potassium.
  • White: A baked russet potato features 14% of the DV of niacin, and half a cup of raw cauliflower has 29% of the DV of vitamin C.

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Cocoa flavanols, which act as anti-inflammatory antioxidants, have been found to support brain function.[17] High quantities of cocoa flavanols are found in dark chocolate and are connected to improvements in memory and attention.

Coffee and tea

Coffee and tea may not be what comes to mind when you think of foods good for dementia. However, coffee and its caffeine content provide benefits for those with mild cognitive impairment. Clinical studies have also shown that caffeine and coffee may delay the onset of dementia in seniors.[18]

Tea helps reduce oxidative stress which may play a role in the development of dementia symptoms.[19] Many foods good for dementia feature anti-inflammatory properties that target oxidative stress and improve overall health.


Eating fish may be connected to slower cognitive decline over time.[20] Fish is a rich source of the following vitamins and minerals essential to the human body:

  • Manganese. The body utilizes this mineral to metabolize amino acids and other substances for healthy bodily functions.
  • Retinoids. Sometimes referred to as vitamin A, retinoids assist in maintaining the health of the body’s tissues.
  • Vitamin B3. This vitamin is essential for the health of the brain and nervous system.
  • Vitamin B6. This vitamin helps convert tryptophan into niacin and serotonin. It is key for healthy sleep, appetite, and moods.
  • Vitamin B12. This vitamin assists the body’s nervous system by protecting nerve cells and promoting their growth.
  • Vitamin D. As an essential vitamin, vitamin D helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus for optimal health.[03]

Fish is a potentially beneficial food for people living with dementia. The following examples show how fish can add important nutrients to a diet: [03,21]

  • A 3-ounce serving of rainbow trout offers 81% of the DV of vitamin D.
  • One tablespoon of cod liver oil offers 170% of the DV of vitamin D.
  • A 3-ounce serving of bluefin tuna offers 385% of the DV of vitamin B12.
  • A 3-ounce serving of sockeye salmon provides 54% of the DV of niacin.

Leafy green vegetables

Leafy greens are rich in substances such as folate and lutein. Consuming one serving per day may reduce the decline of nervous system functioning in aging adults.[22]

Leafy greens also contain the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin B2, sometimes called riboflavin, is essential for healthy skin, hair, blood, and brain cells.
  • Calcium assists the body’s nervous system by helping to transmit nerve impulses throughout the body.
  • Vitamin E plays the role of an antioxidant in the body. Diets enriched with this vitamin may prevent Alzheimer’s disease.[03]

The following are examples of leafy greens that contain essential vitamins and minerals:

  • Adding half a cup of boiled spinach offers 13% of the DV of vitamin E, 35% of the DV of manganese, and 9% of the DV of calcium.[09,07,23]
  • Eating half a cup of boiled, chopped broccoli provides 8% of the DV of vitamin E and 57% of the DV of vitamin C.[09,15]
  • Consuming half a cup of cooked cabbage provides 31% of the DV of vitamin C.[15]

Probiotic foods

Probiotic foods can help with digestion and absorption of nutrients like tryptophan — a necessary amino acid for serotonin and melatonin production. Studies show that consuming multispecies probiotics may positively influence gut bacteria and promote tryptophan absorption in those with cognitive decline.[24]

Common probiotic foods good for dementia that can be found in grocery stores include the following:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Cottage cheese

Edible mushrooms

Edible mushrooms contain the following vitamins that are valuable for cognitive health: [03,16]

  • Vitamin B3, sometimes referred to as niacin, plays a role in maintaining a healthy brain and nervous system functioning.
  • Vitamin B5 supports the production of neurotransmitters throughout the body.

For example, shiitake mushrooms offer 52% of the DV of vitamin B5.[25]

The lion’s mane mushroom has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and may offer neurological benefits to older adults based on recent studies. Lion’s mane promotes healthy functioning in the nervous system and provides anti-inflammatory properties.[26]

Dementia-friendly meals in memory care

It can be difficult for a caregiver to meet the nutritional needs of a loved one living with dementia, especially as the disease progresses. Many senior living communities, including memory care, employ nutritional experts or hire dietary consultants to offer services tailored to residents with dementia.

If you would like help with your loved one’s long-term care, reach out to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom. Their free services can assess your loved one’s situation and help you locate memory care options in your area.

Table of Contents

Foods that help with dementia

Dementia-friendly meals in memory care


  1. National Institute on Aging. (2023, November 20). What do we know about diet and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease?

  2. Mazza, E., Fava, A., Ferro, Y., Moraca, M., Rotundo, S., Colica, C., Provenzano, F., Terracciano, R., Greco, M., Foti, D., Gulletta, E., Russo, D., Bosco, D., Pujia, A., & Montalcini, T. (2017, May 22). Impact of legumes and plant proteins consumption on cognitive performances in the elderlySpringer Link.

  3. Harvard Medical School. (2020, August 31). Listing of vitamins. Harvard Health Publishing.

  4. Muthaiyah, B., Essa, M., Lee, M., Chauhan, V., Kaur, K., & Chauhan, A. (2014, May 14). Dietary supplementation of walnuts improves memory deficits and learning skills in transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s diseaseJournal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

  5. O’Brien, J., Okereke, O., Devore, E., Rosner, B., Breteler, M., & Grodstein, F. (2014, January 29). Long-term intake of nuts in relation to cognitive function in older women. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.

  6. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26.) Potassium.

  7. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 29). Manganese.

  8. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26). Selenium.

  9. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26). Vitamin E.

  10. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, March 1). Magnesium.

  11. Krikorian, R., Shidler, M., Nash, T., Kalt, W., Vinqvist-Tymchuk, M., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. (2010, April 14). Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adultsJournal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

  12. Ensle, K. (2017, June). Eat berries to improve brain function. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

  13. Lee, A. T. C., Richards, M., Chan, W., Chiu, H. F. K., Lee, R. S. Y., & Lam, L. C. W. (2017, Feburary 23). Lower risk of incident dementia among Chinese older adults having three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits a dayAge and Ageing.

  14. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26). Vitamin C.

  15. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26). Niacin.

  16. Socci, V., Tempesta, D., Desideri, G., De Gennaro, L., & Ferrara, M. (2017, May 16). Enhancing human cognition with cocoa flavonoidsFrontiers in Nutrition.

  17. Cao, C., Loewenstein, D. A., Lin, X., Zhang, C., Wang, L., Duara, R., Wu, Y., Giannini, A., Bai, G., Cai, J., Greig, M., Schofield, E., Ashok, R., Small, B., Potter, H., & Arendash, G. W. (2012, February 21). High blood caffeine levels in MCI linked to lack of progression to dementiaJournal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

  18. Ide, K., Matsuoka, N., Yamada, H. Furushima, D., & Kawakami, K. (2018). Effects of tea catechins on alzheimer’s disease: Recent updates and perspectivesMolecules.

  19. Morris, M., Evans, D., & Tangney, C. (2005, December). Fish consumption and cognitive decline with age in a large community studyArchives of Neurology.

  20. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, August 17). Vitamin D.

  21. Morris, M., Wang, Y., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., Dawson-Hughes, B., & Booth, S. L. (2018, January 16). Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive declineNeurology.

  22. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, November 17). Calcium.

  23. Leblhuber, F., Steiner, K., Schuetz, B., Fuchs, D., & Gostner, J. M. (2018, October 15). Probiotic supplementation in patients with alzheimer’s dementia – An explorative intervention studyCurrent Alzheimer Research.

  24. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26). Pantothenic Acid.

  25. Spelman, K., Sutherland, E., & Bagade, A. (2017, December 1). Neurological activity of lion’s mane (hericium erinaceus)Journal of Restorative Medicine.

Meet the Author
Melissa Bean, senior living writer

Melissa Bean is a former veterans content specialist at A Place for Mom, where she crafted easy-to-understand articles about VA resources, senior care payment options, dementia caregiving, and more. Melissa pairs over a decade of writing experience with her time as a military spouse, during which she organized and led a multistate military family support group.

Reviewed by

Lauri Grady, RN, BSN, CCM, CLCP

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