Listen to the buzz about foods and dietary supplements, and you’ll believe they can do everything from sharpen focus to enhance memory, attention span, and brain function.
But do they really work? There’s no denying that as we age, our body ages right along with us. The good news is that you can improve your chances of maintaining a healthy brain if you add “smart” foods and drinks to your diet.
There’s no denying that as we age chronologically, our body ages right along with us. But research is showing that you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain well into your old age if you add these “smart” foods to your daily eating regimen.
Simply put, bone broth is homemade stock made from animal bones such as turkey or venison. When you ingest bone broth, it feeds the body with collagen, which is the building block of cells, bones, ligaments, and the brain. A Harvard study showed that people with auto-immune disorders experiences a relief of symptoms when drinking bone broth, some achieving complete remission. The glycine found in this broth has also been shown to help improve both sleep and memory.
The wide range of nutrients found in bee pollen makes it a great natural energizer. Pollens are about 40% protein and are rich in folic acid, free amino acids, and lots of B-complex, which can help keep you going all day by enhancing the brain’s stamina and fighting off fatigue. So, forget the cup of joe. Add a teaspoon of bee pollen to a smoothie or shake for a boost of energy when you need it for those early morning meetings or that extra push in the early afternoon.
Celery is one of the richest sources of luteolin, a plant compound that is said to lower the rates of age-related memory loss. Luteolin calms inflammation in the brain, which doctors and scientists alike now believe to be the primary cause of neuro-degeneration. By inhibiting the action of inflammatory cytokines as earlier mentioned, luteolin can prevent the onset of degeneration in the brain.
Nosh on this root vegetable to boost brain power. Scientists at Wake Forest University determined that natural nitrates in beets can increase blood flow to the brain, thereby improving mental performance. The tastiest way to eat beets? Roasted and then drizzled with honey dressing like this easy-to-make healthy side dish.
You really are what you eat! A study published in Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior found that young adults who took sage-oil extract (50 micro liters) before cognitive tests performed better than those given a placebo. Sage contains compounds that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. Use this herb in dishes like this low calorie recipe.
“Brainberries” is what Steven Pratt, MD, author of Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life, calls these tasty fruits. Pratt, who is also on staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., says that in animal studies researchers have found that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such asAlzheimer’s disease or dementia. Studies have also shown that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to much younger rats. Ann Kulze, MD, author of Dr. Ann’s 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss & Lifelong Vitality, recommends adding at least 1 cup of blueberries a day in any form — fresh, frozen, or freeze-dried.
Deep-water fish, such as salmon, are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are essential for brain function, says Kulze. Both she and Pratt recommend wild salmon for its “cleanliness” and the fact that it is in plentiful supply. Omega-3s also contain anti-inflammatory substances. Other oily fish that provide the benefits of omega-3s are sardines and herring, says Kulze; she recommends a 4-ounce serving, two to three times a week.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women with healthy iron levels performed better on mental tasks and completed them faster than those with poor iron status. Iron helps transport oxygen throughout the body and to the brain. To enjoy beef with a clear conscience, splurge on healthier grass-fed cuts and follow these healthy eating tips.
Nuts and seeds.
Nuts and seeds are good sources of vitamin E, says Pratt, explaining that higher levels of vitamin E correspond with less cognitive decline as you get older. Add an ounce a day of walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and unhydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini. Raw or roasted doesn’t matter, although if you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, buy unsalted nuts.
Avocados are almost as good as blueberries in promoting brain health, says Pratt. “I don’t think the avocado gets its due,” agrees Kulze. True, the avocado is a fatty fruit, but, says Kulze, it’s a monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow. “And healthy blood flow means a healthy brain,” she says. Avocados also lower blood pressure, says Pratt, and as hypertension is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities, a lower blood pressure should promote brain health. Avocados are high in calories, however, so Kulze suggests adding just 1/4 to 1/2 of an avocado to one daily meal as a side dish.
Want to excel in the boardroom? Pack a sardine sandwich for lunch! This sustainable swimmer is packed with EPA and DHA, supercharged omega-3 fatty acids that bolster communication among brain cells and help regulate neurotransmitters responsible for mental focus
Pomegranate juice (you can eat the fruit itself but with its many tiny seeds, it’s not nearly as convenient) offers potent antioxidant benefits, says Kulze, which protect the brain from the damage of free radicals. “Probably no part of the body is more sensitive to the damage from free radicals as the brain,” says board-certified neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, author of The Better Brain Book. Citrus fruits and colorful vegetables are also high on Perlmutter’s list of “brainy” foods because of their antioxidant properties — “the more colorful the better,” he says. Because pomegranate juice has added sugar (to counteract its natural tartness), you don’t want to go overboard, says Kulze; she recommends approximately 2 ounces a day, diluted with spring water or seltzer.
Freshly brewed tea.
Two to three cups a day of freshly brewed tea — hot or iced — contains a modest amount of caffeine which, when used “judiciously,” says Kulze — can boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus, and mood. Tea also has potentantioxidants, especially the class known as catechines, which promotes healthy blood flow. Bottled or powdered teas don’t do the trick, however, says Kulze. “It has to be freshly brewed.” Tea bags do count, however.
Let’s end with the good stuff. Dark chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties, contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhance focus and concentration, and stimulates the production of endorphins, which helps improve mood. One-half ounce to 1 ounce a day will provide all the benefits you need, says Kulze. This is one “superfood” where more is not better. “You have to do this one in moderation,” says Kulze.
Sunflower Seeds/Pumpkin Seeds
Both sunflower and pumpkin seeds contain a rich mix of protein, omega fatty acids and B vitamins, which aid in giving you added energy. They also contain tryptophan, which the brain converts into serotonin to boost your mood and combat anxiety and depression. Lastly, a handful of seeds will give you your daily recommended amount of zinc, a supplement aiding in enhancing memory and thinking skills.
Nitrates can also be found in spinach, increasing blood flow to the brain and improving mental performance. In addition to preventing or delaying dementia, the nutrients in spinach can also aid in preventing cancer cell and tumor growth.
Oil-based salad dressings
“The data support eating foods that are high in vitamin E and this includes healthy vegetable oil-based salad dressings, seeds and nuts, peanut butter, and whole grains,” says Martha Clare Morris, ScD, director of the section on nutrition and nutritional epidemiology in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush University, in Chicago.
The benefit has been seen with vitamin-E rich foods, but not supplements, she says.
A potent antioxidant, vitamin E may help protect neurons or nerve cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, neurons in certain parts of the brain start to die, which jump-starts the cascade of events leading to cognitive deterioration.
Eggs, more specifically the yolks, are a leading source of choline. Choline is a precursor for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in helping you remember things like where you left the car keys. Eating protein-rich foods like eggs for breakfast can improve overall cognitive performance, according to Swiss researchers.
Brew up a mug of yerba mate to beat the afternoon slump. Brazilian scientists found that yerba mate, herbal tea gleaned from a South American plant, can enhance short-term brain power. This is likely due to stimulants like caffeine.
Studies have shown that people who consume moderate amounts of red wine and other types of alcohol may be at reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but it may be that there is something else that tipplers do or don’t do that affects their risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Carrillo says.
“People who drink alcohol or eat healthy may be healthier in other aspects of their life, so it is difficult to disentangle whether it’s the healthy diet that protects them versus other healthy behaviors.”
Eat more tomatoes
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 which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s.
Add vitality with vitamins
Certain B vitamins – B6, B12 and folic acid – are known to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. A study of a group of elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment found that after two years of intervention with high doses of B6, B12 and folic acid there was significantly less brain shrinkage compared to a subset given placebo treatment.
Sugar Can Enhance Alertness
Sugar is your brain’s preferred fuel source — not table sugar, but glucose, which your body processes from the sugars and carbs you eat. That’s why a glass of something sweet to drink can offer a short-term boost to memory, thinking, and mental ability.
Have too much, though, and memory can be impaired — along with the rest of you. Go easy on the sugar so it can enhance memory without packing on the pounds.
Bet on broccoli
A great source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.
Caffeine Can Make You More Alert
There’s no magic bullet to boost IQ or make you smarter — but certain substances, like caffeine, can energize you and help you concentrate. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up buzz, though the effects are short-term. And more is often less: Overdo it on caffeine and it can make you jittery and uncomfortable.
Okay you can’t eat it, but research suggests that regular exercise is as important, if not more so, as what you eat when it comes to memory-saving lifestyle changes.
Experts all stress that getting regular exercise is also an important part of the equation when it comes to staving off many diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
The bottom line?
“We can‘t go out and say, ‘Eat these things and you are protected from Alzheimer’s,’ but there is almost no downside to increasing your physical activity and consuming a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fish, healthy oils, nuts, and seeds,” Morris says.