Can’t remember where you put those car keys or what you made for dinner last night? Amp up your memory by revamping your diet. Here’s what to eat for a better brain, from fitness.com.
Time to cook up some curry! A study in the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurologyshowed older adults in India are 4.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than the same demographic in the U.S. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory abilities to protect cell erosion and carries antioxidant effects that fight against breakdown in cell membranes. “It’s more than just a protector against Alzheimer’s,” says clinical dietitian Jaclyn London, RD, who specializes in neurology and brain injury at Mount Sinai Health System. “Research has shown that individuals who only occasionally consume curry, less than once per month, still performed better on a standardized test than those who reported rarely or never eating curry.”
Turns out berries do a lot more than just sweeten up your morning smoothie. “Berries are rich in polyphenols, especially anthocyanins, shown in studies to increase sharpness and speed of processing in areas of our brain function that are the first to go as we get older,” says research scientist Paula C. Bickford, PhD, a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair at University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.
Foods rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids will help your head and your heart, says London. Stick to healthy fats only, of which avocados have many, and skip trans and saturated fats. “Swapping avocado for butter in a lot of your traditional baked good recipes, such as cakes and breads, can provide the same emulsifying effect (and taste), but with an added cardiovascular and neuro-protective effect.”
Orange fruits and veggies — like sweet potatoes, carrots, melon, butternut squash, and oranges serve as great defenders of cell breakdown, causing better brain function into older age. “More often than not, when asked to choose the best fruit or veggie, researchers, nutritionists and food scientists always tend to answer with something orange,” says London. “This is likely due to the exponential antioxidant capacity of these foods when compared to others.”
Chickpeas have high vitamin-B content (like B6 and folate), meaning lots of brain benefits. “In our bodies, folate is responsible for the conversion of homocysteine, a byproduct of cellular metabolism, into methionine, which is another amino acid,” London says. “High levels of homocysteine are responsible for blood vessel damage.” While research has yet to determine if folic acid intake is the only cause of decreased homocysteine levels, failing to get vitamins and minerals is linked with high levels of homocysteine in the blood — and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
Though it sometimes gets a bad rap, coffee has two-fold benefits for the brain. First, caffeine is linked to protective benefits, like stimulating the central nervous system and combating declining brain functioning as you age — and a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease says this is cumulative. Therefore, the more you get, the better. (That said, you should keep to the recommended daily amount, equivalent to approximately three 8-ounce cups of coffee per day, and make sure not to get so much that you’re losing sleep.) When it comes to caffeine sources, London says to choose coffee hands down. “From a cognitive perspective, research has demonstrated that even those at the highest risk level for developing Alzheimer’s disease have decreased their risk by around 67 percent,” she says. “The antioxidant content of coffee is insurmountable when you compare to other commonly consumed foods, though it is seldom treated with such clout.”
Fatty fish like salmon are the most biologically available source of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, in their natural form, and these are the two compounds associated with cognition and brain function. “It’s the only biologically available source of vitamin D, which is linked to Alzheimer’s risk reduction, and fatty fish intake has been associated with improved lipid profiles, particularly when compared to diets higher in saturated fat from meat sources like beef, dairy, and poultry,” London says. “When it comes to neurological dysfunction, research points to a link between neurodegenerative disorders and low levels of vitamin D, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and epilepsy.” Just make sure to get wild salmon. Experts suggest that hidden sources of metal, which can be found in pollutants in fish, may be hazardous to brain function and memory.
Almonds and Walnuts
With the exception of peanuts and cashews, all nuts are high in the vitamin E, which is essential for protecting the brain from age-related damage. In addition, Bickford notes recent research shows that those who nosh on nuts every day live longer and have fewer diseases. “Studies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have shown that nuts improve learning and memory in old rats, and we’re beginning to see studies in humans showing the prevention of brain diseases like Parkinson’s,” Bickford says.
Pour yourself a glass of vino in the name of better brain functioning. London says research has shown light to moderate alcohol intake can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s disease in half. Although any alcohol will do the trick — yes, even vodka and tequila — your health and waistline will thank you if you stick to a glass of red wine a day (which is also linked to increased longevity).
An ounce of dark chocolate will work wonders for mind and body, lowering BMI and cardiovascular disease risk in addition to a slew of other cognitive boosts. “With an impact on mood, learning, cognition, and memory, the flavanols in cocoa powder protect against neurologic damage and promote blood flow to the brain,” says London