When it comes to health, we tend to select foods to benefit internal lab values and external physical appearances. While keeping blood pressures, cholesterol levels, and weight within healthy and normal parameters is encouraged, we must not dismiss or undermine the significance of nourishing the brain. Sound nutrition and positive lifestyle choices may not only impact cognition in the short-term, but lead to lasting outcomes.
Keys to Eating for Better Brain Health
A multitude of diet recommendations can positively influence brain health, mostly laying on the foundation of implementing a heart-healthy, Mediterranean-style diet. According to the American Stroke Association, a heart-healthy diet can lower stoke risk and improve overall health, identifying “brain foods” as fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, beans, and lean meats. Incorporating such foods and reducing saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars are suggested to lower stroke risk by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure that may cause strain and inflammation in the arteries. Furthermore, added sugars have been closely tied to obesity and diabetes, two risk factors related to stroke. Beyond specific guidelines of a heart-healthy diet, supplementary considerations assisting in optimal brain health are configured from the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7, including managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, getting active, losing weight, and smoking cessation.
Best Brain Foods
Along with umbrella diet recommendations and considerations, the following foods have been explored and attributed to better brain health:
Unlike most fruits recognized as carbohydrate sources, avocadoes are acknowledged for their heart-healthy monounsaturated fat content. Addressed in the Advances of Neurobiology, avocadoes contain a high content of antioxidants that may exhibit neuroprotective outcomes. Avocadoes’ potential role in mitigating oxidative stress and neural damage may safeguard against age-related diseases such as Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Their potassium concentrations may also manage blood pressure and potentially detour stroke risk.
Economical, plant-based, and vegan-friendly, beans are extremely valuable to the brain and nervous system. Beans significance in brain health is mostly related to their vitamin B content, which assists in modulating neuron synthesis and communication. The magnesium supplied in some beans may increase the speed of message transmission and relax blood vessels, allowing more oxygenated-rich blood flow to the brain.
Beets are a significant source of antioxidants, along with research showing drinking beet juice may fight the progression of dementia. Areas of the brain often lack blood supply with advancing age, a phenomenon thought to contribute to dementia and poor cognition. The nitrites found in beets have shown to widen blood vessels, thus increasing oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain similarly to magnesium.
Berries are considerably known for their significant antioxidant content, compounds that protect cells from damage. According to a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Chemistry, berries enhance beneficial signaling in the aging brain. Evidence supports the fruit has direct effects on the brain that may prevent age-related neurodegenerations and the resulting changes of cognitive and motor function.
• Coffee and Tea
Coffee brews up extensive benefits, including the sought out energy jolt in the morning hours and to the brain for lifelong benefits. The caffeinated beverage can enhance memory, focus, and mood, along with reducing the risks of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s diseases and depression. Additionally, the catechins found in tea promotes healthy blood flow, which may support a healthy brain.
• Dark Chocolate
Yes, you read that right… But it is important to mention the key need for moderated portions and attention to added sugars. The powerful antioxidant properties and stimulants of dark chocolate may enhance focus and concentration. Simply put, the darker the chocolate, the greater the polyphenols, compounds offering powerful antioxidant properties. Along with reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, polyphenols may defend against brain deterioration and weakening.
• Dark, Leafy Greens
As if there was another reason to eat your greens… Dark, leafy greens have been touted to keep mental abilities sharp. More specifically, the vitamin K content found in spinach, kale, collard and mustard greens may slow down cognitive decline, prompting leafy greens to be affordable and noninvasive protectors from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
• Deep-Water Fish
Deep-water fish, including salmon, herring, mackerel, and herring, contain infamous omega-3 fatty acids. Though popularly recognized for their protection against heart disease, omega-3s also play a favorable part in brain function. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3, is necessary for proper brain development in infants and required for normal brain function, further contributing to positive outcomes on learning and memory.
• Grassfed Beef
Though often scrutinized for its saturated fat content, beef can contribute to a better brain related to its iron and zinc content, two minerals showing promise in brain health. Moreover, grassfed beef supplies greater amounts of omega-3 fatty acids compared to cattle that are grain-fed. Grass-fed beef is correspondingly apart of the Grain Brain Diet and The Anti-Alzheimer’s Trio, along with avocadoes and coconut oil, three proponents high in “brain-healthy” fats.
• Nuts and Seeds
Perhaps it is not so ironic walnuts resemble the structure of the brain… Like oily fish, the brain benefits of nuts and seeds can be attributed to omega-3 fatty acid content. The high vitamin E concentrations found in assorted varieties walnuts may lead to memory improvements.
Chew on this: Research suggests not only the smell, but the flavor, of peppermint can enhance memory! Evidence supports chewing gum can improve long-term and working memory, along with increasing alertness and mental performance.
Pomegranates provoke special interest in anti-aging researchers, as the polyphenol content has been extensively studied in animal models in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. But a recent study set out to examine the effects in humans, ultimately discovering the polyphenols derived from pomegranate juice may improve memory in older persons with age-related memory decline. Additionally, memory assessments indicated subjects who drank 8-ounces of pomegranate juice over a one-month time span experienced significant improvements related to memory performance.
• Whole Grains
Fiber-rich whole grains are a considerable component in heart-healthy and Mediterranean diets, which are linked to lower risks of cognitive impairments. The folate found in oats and other whole grains are also crucial for proper brain development and function, which play an important role in mental health and wellbeing.