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August 15, 2017 | Family Medicine • Weight Management • Wellness Institute • Women and Children's Center
Every part of the body ages with time, including the brain. And while the functions of each may be different, the brain is just like any other body part—healthy habits help it stay in much better shape during the aging process.
A big area in brain health is food. Research shows that adding certain foods into your diet can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain as you age. Here are nine examples of the kinds of foods that can help maintain a healthy brain:
Berries, particularly dark berries like blackberries, blueberries and cherries, are a great source of anthocyanins and other flavonoids that can boost memory function. Blueberries, in particular, can be very protective for the brain—research in animal studies found that they protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Studies have also shown that diets rich in blueberries saw significant improvements in learning capacity and motor skills for aging rats—these rats became mentally equivalent to much younger rats. Add blueberries in any form to your daily diet.
Deep-water fish like salmon are high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are important for brain function. Omega-3s also contain anti-inflammatory substances. Other good fish here include sardines and herring.
These are excellent sources of vitamin E, and higher levels of vitamin E correspond with less cognitive decline during the aging process. Items like walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed and unhydrogenated nut butters like peanut butter, almond butter and tahini are all good examples. Try to add an ounce per day of nuts and/or seeds—either raw or roasted are fine as long as they meet other dietary requirements.
The avocado is a relatively fatty fruit, but it’s a monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow. Avocados also lower blood pressure, which is a benefit for brain health given that high blood pressure is a risk factor for declining cognitive abilities. Because avocados are high in calories, add just a quarter or half of one to a daily meal as a side dish.
Whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease by promoting good blood flow to the organ system—which also includes the brain. Whole grains can be found in oatmeal, whole-grain breads and brown rice, plus many cereals. Wheat germ is not technically a whole grain, but it can be used as a substitute due to high levels of fiber, vitamin E and omega-3s. Try to add a half-cup of whole-grain cereal, a whole-grain slice of bread a couple times per day, or two tablespoons of wheat germ per day.
The brain depends on blood sugar (glucose) as its fuel, and beans help stabilize glucose levels in the body. Beans also provide energy, which is important because the brain can’t store glucose and needs this constant stream of energy to keep it functioning properly. Lentils and black beans are especially beneficial, though any type of beans will do—about a half cup per day can do you good.
Pomegranate juice contains several antioxidant benefits, and these protect the brain from damaging items called free radicals. The brain is the part of the body most sensitive to free radicals, and many citrus fruits have antioxidant properties that can combat them. Be wary of sugar here, and try to stick to about 2 ounces a day of pomegranate juice, diluted with spring water or seltzer.
Two or three cups per day of freshly brewed hot or iced tea contain a small amount of caffeine, which is great for enhancing memory, focus and mood. Tea also contains antioxidants, particularly a class called catechins, which promotes healthy blood flow. Keep in mind that tea must be fresh—bottled or powdered teas do not have the same benefits.
Dark chocolate is another food with powerful antioxidant properties; it also contains several natural stimulants like caffeine to enhance focus and concentration. Chocolate must be eaten in moderation—about half an ounce to an ounce per day is all you need, and more is not better in this case.
For more recommendations on foods to help boost brain health or other important areas, speak to your doctor.
“Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/eat-smart-healthier-brain#1
“4 Types of Foods to Help Boost Your Memory.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/wellness/healthy-aging/memory-boosting-foods
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.