Feeling like your brain could use some help? Few people would say no to improving their brain function. Especially in light of the degrading effects that aging can have on our brains, many of us would like to improve and sustain our memory, comprehension, and our ability to solve problems. The path to a stronger, healthier brain is laden with nutritious foods containing antioxidants, quality fats, vitamins, and other nutrients. Eat the following foods on a regular basis to help your brain flex its muscles.
Blueberries are not only delicious but super beneficial for your brain as well. They have been associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia, as they have shown to improve both memory and learning ability. Blueberries are also one of the most powerful anti-stress foods you can eat. Consuming at least one cup of blueberries a day is recommended in any form — fresh, frozen, or freeze-dried.
Wild salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for better brain function and also contain anti-inflammatory substances. Omega-3s can improve cognition, alertness, memory and mood, and reduce anxiety, depression, and your risk of mental degeneration. Other fish that provide these benefits are sardines and herring. A 4-ounce serving, two to three times a week is recommended.
The avocado is indeed a fatty fruit, but this “good fat” contributes to healthy blood flow, which leads to a healthier brain. Avocados lower your blood pressure, and as high blood pressure is linked to a decline in cognitive function, lower blood pressure should improve brain health. However, because avocados are high in calories, limit yourself to just one-fourth or one-half of an avocado to a daily meal.
Pomegranates offer powerful antioxidant benefits, which protect your brain from damage caused by free radicals. Although it may be less convenient, opt for the actual fruit rather than pomegranate juice so that you get all the fiber and avoid sugars added to the juice. Anything you can do to offset stress is a good idea to improve brain health. Pomegranates have been associated with reducing stress, but that connection has been debated.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of vitamin E, which has been known to help maintain cognition as we age. Walnuts make a great snack and have the highest amount of antioxidants, some of which are even more potent than Vitamin E. Seeds contain a ton of protein, “good fat,” and vitamin E, as well as antioxidants and important brain-strengthening minerals like magnesium. Sesame seeds in particular have a long list of health benefits. Add an ounce a day of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, cashews, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, or even unhydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini.
Freshly brewed tea also contains powerful antioxidants, especially the class known as catechins. A common catechin found in tea is called EGCG, which can be 25 to 100 times more potent than vitamins C and E. It is vital to brew tea fresh, or you won’t get all those catechin benefits. Tea also provides a modest amount of caffeine which can increase brain power by enhancing focus, mood, and memory.
In addition to a noticeable boost in energy, there is evidence that coffee may exert an electrical jolt to dormant parts of your brain and potentially strengthen synapses associated with learning and spatial memory. Coffee also contains fiber, which will help your cardiovascular system (stronger heart = healthier brain).The trick though, is not to have more than two or three cups.
The brain uses roughly 20 percent of your carbohydrate intake. It is dependent on blood sugar for fuel and since it can’t store the sugar, it relies on a steady stream of carbs — which beans can satisfy. Beans are not only packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein, but they’re also very inexpensive. A bag of raw beans usually only costs a few dollars and can last to accompany meals for several weeks. Accompany is the key word here — just one-fourth of a cup is adequate.
Oysters are great source of selenium, magnesium, protein, and many other nutrients which promote brain health.
You may be questioning the fattening influence that olive oil can have on your diet, but avoiding fat can increase confusion, mood swings, and insomnia. A diet rich in the right amount of “good fat” is essential to clear thinking, improved memory, and a balanced mood. People who consume the processed vegetable fats found in salad dressings, snacks, and prepared foods have dramatically higher rates of mental degradation than people who eat healthy fats. Most processed foods and fast foods are made with low quality oils and Omega-6 fats, which are more unhealthy than saturated fats. Choose healthy fats like those present in olive oil, and avoid processed fats found in junk food.
Tuna is another rich source of Omega-3s, however it also has the highest level of vitamin B6 of any food. Studies suggest that B6 is directly associated with memory, cognition, and long term brain health. The B vitamins in general are very important for balancing your mood. B6, specifically, influences dopamine receptors, helping you feel happy.
Garlic is one of the most powerful nutritional weapons at your disposal. Garlic helps reduce bad cholesterol and strengthens your cardiovascular system. It also has a protective antioxidant effect on the brain and has been known to fight bacteria more effectively than standard antibiotics.
Green, leafy vegetables
Vegetables like spinach, kale, chard, arugula, and romaine are high in iron and manganese. Iron deficiency, which is rather common among Americans, has been linked to restless leg syndrome, fatigue, bad moods, confusion, and other cognition issues.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, a red pigment also found in berries and fruits. It is also an antioxidant that is particularly good for your brain — it can help prevent dementia and lower your risk for certain cancers. Tomatoes have to be cooked to get the lycopene, which means that ketchup can be good for your brain. However, other sources of lycopene containing less sugar, like fresh tomato sauce, are recommended.
Sara Thompson is a blogger for neurosurgeon Dr. Todd Kuether in Portland, Oregon.