We’re All Interested in Brain Health
Foods for brain health should be of interest to everyone. You could search for a long time and not find anyone who could say with a straight face that he or she wanted to be dull-witted or afflicted with a faltering memory. We’d all like to be mentally sharp. That means we all have an interest in promoting cognitive health and foods for brain health.
Many people don’t even realize, though, that there’s a relationship between what we eat and how well our brains work. Some foods are brain healthy foods. As such, they’re a considerable help with concentration and memory. They also help with the non-cognitive chores the brain performs. These include regulating the heart, lungs, and muscle movement.
Here, then, are foods for brain health:
Vegetables and Fruits
- Broccoli’s high in vitamin K. You need this fat-soluble vitamin to form sphingolipids. Sphingolipids are a kind of fat abundant in brain cells. There have been studies in older adults associating higher vitamin K intake with sharper memory. Broccoli is also rich in antioxidants and other power plant compounds that exert an anti-inflammatory effect. These may promote brain health by protecting the brain against damage. Broccoli is an all-star player among the foods for brain health.
- Oranges give us an abundance of vitamin C. We need vitamin C to maintain brain health and prevent cognitive deterioration. A 2004 review article suggests that it helps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C help the body neutralize the free radicals. These could otherwise damage brain cells. (Guava, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, and bell pepper are other good sources of vitamin C.)
- Blueberries are a healthy food in general and a fine addition to almost any brain healthy diet. Like other deeply colored berries, they provide anthocyanin. These are compounds that have both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. By combatting inflammation and oxidative stress, they address conditions that can undermine brain health and lead to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, animal studies indicate that blueberries enhance memory and work against short-term memory loss. Other research indicates that antioxidants found in blueberries accumulate in the brain. There, they improve communication among neurons.
Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds
- There’s a 2014 review that concludes nuts improve mental functioning and can even prevent neurodegenerative diseases. Another study found that women who ate nuts had sharper memories than women who didn’t. It’s likely that the antioxidants, healthy fats, and vitamin E in nuts go a long way toward explaining these results. Vitamin E provides a shield against the free radicals that promote mental decline. One thing we know for certain is that eating nuts is good for your heart, and heart health correlates with brain health. Of all the varieties of nut, walnuts may be the best of all to include in a brain healthy diet since they also provide Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Pumpkin seeds.Pumpkin seeds are another place to get those essential antioxidants. They also give you copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc, each necessary for brain health. Copper regulates nerve signals including those in the brain. People who don’t have enough are more prone to develop Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. A lack of iron produces a cloudy mind and impaired cognitive function. Magnesium is necessary for memory and learning, and a relative lack of it is linked to depression, epilepsy, migraines, and other neurological diseases. Zinc plays a critical role in the transmission of nerve signals, and researchers have connected zinc deficiency to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and other neurological problems.
- Fatty Fish. The list of fatty fish includes salmon, sardines, and trout, all good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Since 60 percent of the brain is made of fat and half of that is specifically the omega-3 type of fat, you can understand why you might need to replenish it to support brain health. Specifically, the brain is using omega-3s to make neurons, and the fats are thus vital for memory and learning. There’s evidence that omega-3s help slow age-related mental decline and fend off Alzheimer’s, and that, conversely people who don’t get enough are more vulnerable to depression and learning impairments. Additionally, research has found that people who eat broiled or baked fish on a regular basis have more gray matter in their brains, and it’s in the gray matter where most of the cells governing memory, emotion, and decision-making are located.
- Eggs are a source of several nutrients linked to brain health including vitamins B6 and B12, folate, and choline. B vitamins help stave off age-related mental decline as well as depression. B12 plays a role in regulating sugar levels in the brain and the synthesis of essential brain chemicals. Abundant in egg yolks, choline is linked to better mental functioning and memory. The body uses it to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of memory and mood.
Nutrition for Brain Health: Beverages, Spices, and Treats
- Green tea. The caffeine in green tea can improve brain function by boosting alertness, focus, memory and performance. Green tea also contains the amino acid L-theanine that increases GABA activity in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. It produces more alpha wave activity and thus creates the beneficial relaxation without making you feel tired. Green tea also has polyphenols and antioxidants that help the brain stave off mental deterioration, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
- As you surely know, coffee is also a source of caffeine that can provide the same effects as those of the caffeine in green tea. It can improve a person’s mood and lower the risk of neurological illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, perhaps because it’s rich in antioxidants.
- One of the main ingredients in curry powder, turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. There’s reason to believe curcumin improves memory in Alzheimer’s sufferers and works to remove the amyloid plaques associated with the illness. It relieves depression by boosting serotonin and dopamine levels. It also promotes the growth of new brain cells by increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a growth hormone.
- Dark chocolate.Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain caffeine, flavonoids, and antioxidants, all of which are good for your mental functioning. Flavonoids are antioxidant brain compounds that seemingly help the brain resist age-related mental deterioration and improve memory. In one study with over 800 subjects, people who ate chocolate often did better on a number of mental tasks, some involving memory, then people who ate it only infrequently.
Incorporate the brain healthy foods in this list into your diet to sharpen your memory and maximize cognitive health.