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Foods To Power The Brain

May 11, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Everyone wants to try to do as much as they can to prevent aging and to maintain as much brain function as possible as we age. Food is a large part of how we can do this. 

 

Nutritionists emphasize that the most important strategy is to follow a healthy dietary pattern that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. It is best to try to get protein from plant sources and fish and to choose healthy fats, such as olive oil or canola, rather than saturated fats.

 

There are certainly some foods that are particularly rich in nutrients and that have increased health benefits. These include foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants, which are known to support brain health. If a person consumes these nutrients on a regular basis, they can improve the health of your brain, which could translate into better mental function.

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Antioxidants

Antioxidants

Like everything else in your body, the brain cannot work without energy. The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate, steady supply of energy (in the form of glucose) in our blood, to the brain. Achieve this by choosing whole grains which have a low glycemic index, which means that they release their energy slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day. Eating too few healthy carbs, like whole grains, may lead to brain fog and irritability. It is best to choose whole grain cereals, granary bread, brown rice, and whole grain pasta.

 

Research shows that the best brain foods are the same ones that protect your heart and blood vessels, so consumption of these can have additional health benefits.

 

Fruit

 

Berries contain flavonoids which are the natural plant pigments that give berries their brilliant hues and help to improve memory. Research shows that women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week delayed memory decline by up to two-and-a-half years. There is good evidence to suggest that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells that occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. Other foods supplying this and similar protective phyto-nutrients include papaya, watermelon, and pink grapefruit.

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Caffeine and Sleep

Caffeine and Sleep

Green Vegetables

 

Green, leafy vegetables are another food that is extremely healthy for brain functioning. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline. 

 

Fish

 

Fatty fish are also a super food when it comes to brain health. Fatty fish are abundant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy unsaturated fats that have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Try to eat fish at least twice a week, but choose varieties that are low in mercury, such as salmon, cod, canned light tuna, and pollack. If you do not enjoy eating fish, talk to your doctor about taking an omega-3 supplement, or choose terrestrial omega-3 sources such as flaxseeds, avocados, and walnuts. 

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Sources of Omega 3

Sources of Omega 3

Nuts and Seeds

 

Nuts are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats, and walnuts in particular might also improve memory. Research has suggested that higher walnut consumption can be linked to improved cognitive test scores. Walnuts are high in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which helps to lower blood pressure and protects arteries which is good for both the heart and brain. Richer in zinc than many other seeds, pumpkin seeds supply this valuable mineral which is vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills. They’re also full of stress-busting nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins and tryptophan, the precursor to the good-mood chemical serotonin. Other useful food sources include beef, oysters, chickpeas, and nuts including cashews and almonds.

 

Caffeine

 

Perhaps counter-intuitively, research has suggested that higher caffeine consumption is associated with improved mental function. Furthermore, the caffeine in your morning cup of coffee or tea might offer more than just a short-term concentration boost. Research has associated increased caffeine consumption with improved mental function. Furthermore, caffeine might also help solidify new memories according to other research. 

 

Conclusion

Most of the above-mentioned foods are readily available in your pantry or local store and are tasty and easy to prepare so for optimal brain health, enjoy your morning cup of tea or coffee and choose from the plethora of nutritious and nutrient dense foods–they will hopefully lead to a rather memorable experience.

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