There may not be a magic pill to save you from cognitive decline, but there are definitely foods you can eat to help nourish the brain. Eating for your brain is just as important as eating for your gut. You can support your body by what you put on your plate! The brain may be the most important organ in the body, and if you want to keep it sharp as you age, make a nutritional effort now.
According to several research studies, brain foods are the same ones that work to protect the heart and blood vessels. Two of the most studied diets in regards to brain health include the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. In addition to improving heart health, both diets have exhibited an ability to reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. While these diets focus on diverse nutritional intake, there is no single diet that is best for the brain. The goal has to be to incorporate myriad foods that nourish both short- and long-term brain function.
If you want to keep your brain functioning like a well-oiled machine, avoid excess intake of processed foods, added sugars, and lots of red meat. Instead, focus on the following foods for your noggin.
The fact that walnuts are shaped like little brains must count for something! Walnuts provide polyunsaturated fats and phytochemicals that help to benefit the brain. They contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Several studies found that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids decrease a person’s risk of heart disease and cognitive decline. A 2012 study found that walnuts improve working memory, cognitive flexibility, and processing speed.
It’s always a good idea to include more leafy greens in your diet. Several studies found that increasing the consumption of watercress, kale, spinach, chard, and other leafy greens slowed cognitive decline in older people. Leafy greens contain folate, which works to reduce homocysteine levels, Homocysteine is an amino acid that has been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and brain atrophy. Additionally, some leafy greens contain glucosinolates, which encourage optimal brain function.
Berries, especially blueberries, are some of the best sources of flavonoid antioxidants. These work to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Some of these antioxidants include catechin, quercetin, caffeic acid, and anthocyanin. According to a 2014 review, the antioxidant compounds in berries work to improve communication between brain cells. The same compounds may also increase plasticity, which helps brain cells form new connections. This contributes to better learning and memory. Lastly, berries help to delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline.
Yes, coffee made the list, and it’s not because of the caffeine that jolts you awake. Coffee contains a neuroprotective compound known as phenylindane, which forms naturally during the roasting process. It’s this antioxidant that gives coffee the signature bitterness. A 2014 study found that coffee consumption reduced the risk of cognitive decline, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Another 2015 study found that one cup of coffee per day over a three-and-a-half year period reduce the rate of cognitive impairment. Caffeine may help people solidify new memories. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University asked people to memorize images one day. One group then took a placebo and the other group took a 200 milligram caffeine tablet. The caffeine group was able to successfully identify the images the following day.
There is strong evidence that suggests the flavonoids in cacao powder and cacao nibs benefit the memory and learning regions of the brain. Several studies confirmed that these flavonoids helped reduce inflammatory markers and enhance cognitive performance. The primary flavonoid in cacao is epicatechin, which improves various aspects of cognition. In fact, several studies found that it may reduce the risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in a variety of nutrients, including zinc, iron, copper, and magnesium, which encourage brain health. Often times people with low iron levels experience brain function impairment. Consuming more iron can enhance alertness and mental processing. Additionally, the zinc and copper work to support healthy nerve signaling. Finally, magnesium plays a large role in the way the brain learns and memorizes information.