From berries to oysters, these eight brain foods boost memory, help us to think clearly, and contribute to overall good health.
The old maxim “You are what you eat,” turns out to be true.
Research on so-called “brain foods” shows that some chemicals in the foods we eat go right to our brain cells. Sounds pretty powerful.
But can food really make us more intelligent, give us smarter kids, improve memory, help us think more clearly, and maybe even forestall those so-called “senior moments,” or worse, dementia?
The answer is a qualified “yes.” Although no one “miracle” food is going to boost your brain power instantly, make your kid a genius, or cure Alzheimer’s, regularly adding certain foods to your diet will help you function at your personal best, both physically and mentally, throughout your lifetime.
Brain Food #1: Berries
Berries are full of memory-boosting nutrients. Here’s how they work: When we talk about getting “rusty” at certain tasks, we may not be far off. Oxidation, the process that causes metal to rust, can also damage brain cells. This oxidative stress as it’s called, plays a part in many diseases associated with aging from dementia and Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s.
Getting beneficial anti-oxidative compounds like vitamins C, E, beta-carotene and other nutrients through food may help prevent, or at least curtail, the damage, because they can disarm potentially cell-injuring free radicals circulating throughout the system.
Brain Food #3: Apples
That old adage about “an apple a day” is right on target. Turns out that apples contain a group of chemicals that could protect the brain from the type of damage that triggers neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. One of those compounds, a flavonoid called quercetin, has been shown to protect the brain from oxidative injury in animal studies.
Other chemicals such as phenolic acids and different flavonoids protect the apple itself against damage by bacteria, viruses and fung — and if they protect the fruit, just imagine what they can do for us! Studies suggest that eating apples not only may help reduce the risk of cancer, but diminish the risk of neurodegenerative disorders too.
Brain Food #4: Curry
Turmeric, the yellow spice found in many curries, contains curcumin, which also has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It may even prove useful in treating Alzheimer’s; one study showed a reduction in beta amyloid deposits, the plaques associated with the disease, in the brains of animals fed curcumin-enhanced food. In another study, elderly people who ate curry often or very often did better on tests of mental performance than those who never or rarely ate curry.
Brain Food #6: Sardines
We’ve all heard that fish is “brain food,” and there’s good reason for it. Fatty fish like budget-friendly sardines contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to be instrumental in maintaining brain function from early development throughout life. DHA, an omega-3, is present right in the brain, so having those good-for-you omega-3s in your diet is thought to boost brain function.
In addition, components of fatty acids in fish go straight to the synapses of nerve cells, so they play an important role in how neurons communicate with one another, which may have a positive affect throughout life on learning and memory.
Brain Food #7: Oysters
Speaking of seafood as brain food, consider the oyster, which is one food rich in both iron and zinc. If your mind wanders or you have memory lapses here and there, you may need more of the minerals zinc and iron in your diet.
A lot of research has linked decreased iron and zinc levels with poorer mental performance in children, but newer studies on adults suggest these elements help keep grown-ups’ minds sharp as well. In those studies, marginally low iron reserves reduced adults’ ability to concentrate, and lower levels of zinc slowed test participants’ ability to recall words.