7 Of The Best Foods For Your Brain
Eat better, think better. (Photo: Getty Images/Yahoo)
Do you sometimes find yourself struggling to remember deadline dates, lyrics to a song, or where you last put your keys? While your brain holds on to everything, retrieving these experiences can be the challenging part.
“Unfortunately, our brain circuits are fragile,” Neal Barnard, MD, clinical researcher and author of “Power Foods for the Brain,” tells Yahoo Health. “You might have trouble finding a name or a word that you know is in your memory banks somewhere, if only you could figure out where.” He explains that these circuits can easily get knocked off-kilter due to poor sleep, side effects from medication, or a diet lacking in vital nutrients.
Fortunately, what we eat can have a positive effect on the mind, making it quicker, sharper, and all-around healthier. Check out seven of these power foods below. (Hint: “The same foods that are good for the heart are good for the brain,” says Barnard.)
(Photo: Getty Images)
“Many berry varieties contain antioxidants and other compounds that counter inflammation, and researchers have put them to the test for their effects on the brain,” says Barnard. Blueberries in particular were shown to improve learning and recall in studies conducted at the University of Cincinnati. Plus, “a follow-up to the Nurses’ Health Study in 2012 showed that older women who consumed blueberries, as well as strawberries, delayed the onset of cognitive decline by an average of two years,” Barnard adds.
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In a small study, the same researchers from University of Cincinnati gave Concord grape juice with people with mild cognitive impairment and found that it improved their learning ability and even seemed to have modest effects on short-term memory, Barnard says. According to the study, previous animal data had also indicated memory and motor function enhancement with grape juice supplementation. Barnard recommends three servings per week of blueberries or grapes (eating them as is reduces potential added sugar in some juices). “You can pile them on top of steel-cut oats for breakfast, pack them in a bag for an afternoon snack, or use [them] as an ingredient in a colorful salad,” he suggests.
3. Sweet Potatoes
(Photo: Janice Cullivan/Flickr)
“These are the dietary staple of Okinawans, the longest-lived people on Earth who are also known for maintaining mental clarity into old age,” says Barnard. He explains that beta-carotene, which is responsible for giving this root vegetable its orange color, is a powerful antioxidant that can protect the brain. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that this carotenoid, along with vitamin C, may ward off dementia. “One medium sweet potato provides just 100 calories and 14 milligrams of beta-carotene, which is twice the amount you’ll need in an entire day,” says Barnard.
4. Cocoa Powder
A cup of hot cocoa does more than warm you up and lift your spirits — it can also help sharpen your mind, says nutritionist Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, nutrition and health expert for NBC’s TODAY show and founder of Nourish Snacks. “Cocoa powder (ground cacao beans) as well as cacao nibs (cacao beans that have been roasted, removed from their shell and broken into pieces) contain potent antioxidants called flavanols that keep blood vessels flexible and help improve blood flow, both of which keep the brain healthy,” she explains to Yahoo Health. “Plus, the little jolt of caffeine helps dilate blood vessels, delivering oxygen-rich blood to your brain cells fast.” She suggests mixing a spoonful of cocoa powder with Greek yogurt to make an instant, healthy version of “chocolate pudding.”
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(Photo: Sadia Awan/Flickr)
More than 60 percent of your brain is fat, Bauer says, and “the majority of the fatty acids that make up the brain are a type of omega-3 fat called DHA,” or docosahexaenoic acid. One of the best food sources of this type of fat: Salmon.
DHA helps protect your neurons from oxidative and inflammatory damage. “They also help speed up communication between brain cells, which means a sharper memory, more focused attention, and enhanced cognition,” she says. In fact, research published in the journal Neurology found that study participants with low levels of DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) showed about two years of structural brain aging and performed more poorly on tests of visual memory, executive function, and abstract thinking, compared to those with higher levels of these omega-3s. Bauer suggests aiming for two servings of fresh, frozen, or canned salmon each week.
(Photo: Harsha K R/Flickr)
“Almonds are rich in vitamin E, which is a key part of your antioxidant shield,” says Barnard. He refers to a study conducted by Dutch researchers who tracked the dietary habits — specifically vitamin E consumption from food — of nearly 5,400 adults ages 55 and older, over a 10-year period. “It turned out that those who got the most vitamin E cut their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia by about 25 percent,” he says. While almonds contain 7.3 milligrams of vitamin E per ounce, Barnard points out they’re also high in calories (one kernel contains 7 calories). “I would suggest using them sparingly. Just one ounce — which is about one small handful — each day is plenty.”
Popeye may have eaten spinach to build his muscles, but Barnard says this leafy green vegetable can boost brainpower because it’s loaded with folate, an important brain-protecting B vitamin. In a three-year study conducted in the Netherlands, 50-to-70-year-old adults took folate supplements. The result: “Their memories improved, and they were thinking measurably more quickly compared to participants who did not receive folate,” Barnard says. He suggests consuming two to three servings of this veggie group (which also includes kale, bok choy, rainbow chard, and mustard greens) each day. “Also, folate helps your body build healthy cells and genetic materials, another reason green leafy vegetables are coined a powerhouse vegetable — a term reserved for foods strongly associated with a reduced risk for chronic disease,” he adds.
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