The foods that we eat influence our memory, concentration, comprehension, mood, emotions, and intellect. The food groups that are good for our brain health include fruits, iron-rich green, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and even chocolate.
Let’s examine how these food groups help boost our brain health and how we can include them in our diet.
Fruits Boost Brain Health
They are rich in antioxidants and reduce oxidative stress on the brain. Oxidative stress is the imbalance between the formation of free radicals and the ability of the body to protect against their harmful effects. By reducing this stress, blueberries improve learning capacity and motor skills. They are also rich in gallic acid that helps protect the brain from degeneration.
In addition, it was found that a group of rats fed blueberry extracts reversed age-related deficits in neuronal and cognitive function. They also showed better coordination and balance when compared with rats that were not fed the extract.1
You can add fresh blueberries to your breakfast cereals or make a fresh blueberry smoothie.
Cherries are rich in anthocyanins and other flavonoids that may boost brain function. Anthocyanins are thought to work by inhibiting neuroinflammation and improving blood flow to the brain. Research also suggests that people who have a regular intake of cherries have better brain function and are less likely to develop age-related diseases like dementia.2
You can enjoy a handful of cherries for your snack or add them to your favorite breakfast cereals. You can also make a cherry dessert and have a brain boost.
Avocados are rich in healthy fats that are good for our body. The prevent blood clots in the brain as well as improve cognitive functions, especially concentration and memory. Studies also suggest that avocado consumption increases the neural lutein. Higher lutein levels in the brain are related to better cognition.3
Further, the monounsaturated fat present in avocados prevents high blood pressure, which is a risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease.
Avocados are rich in calories, so you must be on a watch when you eat them. You can add avocados to your salad in moderate amounts.
Other fruits that help boost your brain include citrus fruits like oranges. Studies show that citrus flavonoids have neuroprotective effects.4 A diet rich in date palms showed positive results in improving memory, learning, and Alzheimer’s disease in mice.5 A study on fig fruits on an animal model also showed to improve memory, anxiety, and learning skills.6 However, further research is required to conclude the benefits of these fruits on human brain.
Vegetables Boost Brain Health
Broccoli is one of the best brain foods. What makes it to the top of the list is the presence of choline. Choline is a compound which is found to be essential for brain development.7
Broccoli is high in lignans. These are compounds that benefit cognitive skills like thinking and learning. Broccoli is also high in glucosinolates, a group of compounds that can prevent the decline of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is necessary for the central nervous system to perform properly. Low levels of acetylcholine are common in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Broccoli is also rich in fiber. Adding them to your diet will make you feel full faster and longer. You can broccoli to your favorite pasta dish, or as toppings on your pizza. You can also add them to your salads.
These root vegetables boost blood flow to the brain because of the presence of natural nitrates, thereby improving mental performance. According to a study, drinking beet juice can increase blood flow to the brain in older adults.8 Beets also help to rid the toxins from your blood.
Combining the juice and exercise sends extra oxygen to the brain, boosting the somatomotor cortex which detects touch and is affected early in dementia.
Spinach qualifies as a brain food because it contains antioxidants and phytochemicals that help improve blood flow and reduce inflammation. Good blood flow is critical to brain function.
Spinach is high in brain-friendly folate that helps synthesize and regulate the chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which send messages between brain cells. B vitamins play a role in improving memory.
L-tyrosine is an amino acid that helps in the synthesis of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for keeping the brain alert and focused. Spinach contains L-tyrosine and helps improve mental focus.
Other vegetables that you can add to improve your brain health include cabbage and cauliflower.
Nuts Boost Brain Health
Eating a few walnuts a day can improve cognitive health. English walnuts are rich in numerous phytochemicals, including high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and offer potential benefits to brain health. Polyphenolic compounds found in walnuts not only reduce the oxidant and inflammatory load on brain cells but also improve interneuronal signaling.9
Almonds contain riboflavin and L-carnitine. These two key nutrients are capable of positively affecting neurological activity and preventing cognitive decline. Almonds also contain a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids and lots of vitamin E. Studies have shown that vitamin E helps in reducing the functional decline in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease patients.10
Seeds Boost Brain Health
1. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are zinc-rich sources. Zinc is an essential mineral for enhancing memory and thinking skills. These little seeds are also full of stress-busting magnesium, B vitamins, and tryptophan, the precursor to the good mood chemical serotonin.
2. Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are high in important omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for brain development, function, and concentration. Flax contains alpha-linolenic (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that boosts the cerebral cortex, an area of the brain that processes sensory information.
Sprinkle flax seeds on a salad or hot or cold cereal to add them to your diet.
Fish Boosts Brain Health
Salmon and other fatty fish, like mackerel, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which not only help fight disease-causing free radicals in the body but are also one of the building blocks of brain tissue. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon, helps the brain by fighting depression and preventing age-related diseases.11
Fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to lower levels of beta-amyloid proteins in the blood and better vascular health.
You can grill, bake, or broil fish for more flavor and better health. You can also add them to the greens in your salad.
Dark Chocolate Boosts Brain Health
This just makes it easier to add more dark chocolate to your diet. Apart from it being tasty, dark chocolate can help in improving blood flow to the brain.12
In the elderly with mild cognitive impairment, dark chocolate can improve verbal fluency and cognitive function because of the presence of cocoa.13
Foods To Avoids
Avoid the following foods to maintain your brain health.14
- Avoid alcohol as it destroys brain cells and alters brain chemistry, causing memory loss.
- Avoid foods rich in saturated fats like beef, pork, and poultry with skin. This increases the risk of atherosclerosis which damages blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the brain and heart.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates like rice, baked goods, and white bread and sugary foods as these can cause blood sugar imbalance that can worsen memory and cognitive function.
|↑1||First in a Series: Nutrition and Brain Function Food for the Aging Mind. United States Department of Agriculture|
|↑2||Commenges, D., V. Scotet, S. Renaud, H. Jacqmin-Gadda, P. Barberger-Gateau, and J-F. Dartigues. “Intake of flavonoids and risk of dementia.” European journal of epidemiology 16, no. 4 (2000): 357-363.|
|↑3||Johnson, Elizabeth, Rohini Vishwanathan, Emily Mohn, Jordan Haddock, Helen Rasmussen, and Tammy Scott. “Avocado Consumption Increases Neural Lutein and Improves Cognitive Function.” The FASEB Journal 29, no. 1 Supplement (2015): 32-8.|
|↑4||Hwang, Sam-Long, Ping-Hsiao Shih, and Gow-Chin Yen. “Neuroprotective effects of citrus flavonoids.” Journal of Agricultural and Food chemistry 60, no. 4 (2012): 877-885.|
|↑5||Subash, Selvaraju, Musthafa Mohamed Essa, Nady Braidy, Kathyia Awlad-Thani, Ragini Vaishnav, Samir Al-Adawi, Abdullah Al-Asmi, and Gilles J. Guillemin. “Diet rich in date palm fruits improves memory, learning and reduces beta amyloid in transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.” Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine 6, no. 2 (2015): 111.|
|↑6||Subash, Selvaraju, Musthafa Mohamed Essa, Nady Braidy, Ahood Al-Jabri, Ragini Vaishnav, Samir Al-Adawi, Abdullah Al-Asmi, and Gilles J. Guillemin. “Consumption of fig fruits grown in Oman can improve memory, anxiety, and learning skills in a transgenic mice model of Alzheimer’s disease.” Nutritional neuroscience 19, no. 10 (2016): 475-483.|
|↑7||Zeisel, Steven H. “Nutritional importance of choline for brain development.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 23, no. sup6 (2004): 621S-626S.|
|↑8||With beetroot juice before exercise, aging brains look ‘younger’. Wake Forest University.|
|↑9||Poulose, Shibu M., Marshall G. Miller, and Barbara Shukitt-Hale. “Role of walnuts in maintaining brain health with age.” The Journal of nutrition 144, no. 4 (2014): 561S-566S.|
|↑10||Dysken, Maurice W., Mary Sano, Sanjay Asthana, Julia E. Vertrees, Muralidhar Pallaki, Maria Llorente, Susan Love et al. “Effect of vitamin E and memantine on functional decline in Alzheimer disease: the TEAM-AD VA cooperative randomized trial.” Jama 311, no. 1 (2014): 33-44.|
|↑11||Haag, Marianne. “Essential fatty acids and the brain.” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 48, no. 3 (2003): 195-203.|
|↑12||Francis, S. T., K. Head, P. G. Morris, and I. A. Macdonald. “The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on the fMRI response to a cognitive task in healthy young people.” Journal of cardiovascular pharmacology 47 (2006): S215-S220.|
|↑13||Desideri, Giovambattista, Catherine Kwik-Uribe, Davide Grassi, Stefano Necozione, Lorenzo Ghiadoni, Daniela Mastroiacovo, Angelo Raffaele et al. “Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive ImpairmentNovelty and Significance.” Hypertension 60, no. 3 (2012): 794-801.|
|↑14||Torkos, Sherry. The Canadian encyclopedia of natural medicine. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.|