Foods for Healthy Brain and Enhanced Memory

Foods for Healthy Brain and Enhanced Memory

Essential nutrients in oily fish, berries, almonds, and other brain-boosting foods may enhance both short- and long-term brain function.

The brain requires a lot of healthy nourishment to sustain focus throughout the day because it is an energy-intensive organ that uses about 20% of the body’s calories [1]. Eating a diet rich in brain foods is one of the best strategies to keep your mind functioning normally and avoid dementia and cognitive decline.

The brain needs specific nutrients to remain healthy. For instance, antioxidants lower cellular stress and inflammation, which are connected to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, while omega-3 fatty acids aid in brain cell synthesis and repair [2].

Besides the calories expended in executing the myriad of brain processes, certain nutrients can enhance our cognitive performance. Based on the scientific evidence, this article explores what you should know about “brain foods.”

Recent Research on Food and Brain Health

A recent research published in Nature Aging has pointed out that particular foods can help slow brain aging [3]. The 100 individuals, ranging from 65 to 75, answered questionnaires, had MRI scans, underwent a battery of physical and mental examinations, and had blood plasma extracted following a fast.

Researchers observed that one group consumed a specific food profile and showed indications of delayed aging. Those with slower aging had higher blood levels of the following nutrients:

  • Fatty acids – found in seafood and some healthy cooking oils
  • Antioxidants – found in berries, garlic, tomatoes, nuts, and other fruits and vegetables
  • Carotenoids – found in spinach, kale, broccoli, and some fruits
  • Vitamin E – found in fruits, vegetables, seafood, seeds, nuts, and more
  • Choline – found in egg yolks, dairy, and some vegetables

The researchers highlighted that many of the foods in the Mediterranean diet are high in these nutrients. While most other studies on diets and brain health have focused on dietary questionnaires, this study is among the first to employ brain scans, blood biomarkers, and cognitive testing.

Foods for Improved Brain Health and Function

1. Fatty Fish

When it comes to brain foods, fatty fish is generally at the top of the list due to its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish include salmon, trout, tuna, herring, sardines, and mackerel.

Approximately 60% of your brain comprises fat, with omega-3 fatty acids accounting for slightly more than half of that fat [4]. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for learning and memory because your brain needs them to form brain and nerve cells. So, meals high in these fats may promote brain health.

According to studies, omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s and slow down age-related mental deterioration [5]. Conversely, inadequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with depression and cognitive decline [6].

One study suggests that having one seafood dinner per week lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia [7]. Some studies also show that people who consume fish regularly have more gray matter in their brains [8]. Gray matter comprises nerve cells that regulate emotion, memory, and decision-making.

Soybeans, almonds, flaxseed, and other seeds are also good sources of omega-3s.

2. Coffee

Caffeine and antioxidants, two of coffee’s primary components, can promote brain health. Coffee caffeine has several beneficial impacts on the brain, including increased alertness, improved mood, and enhanced focus [9].

In addition to increasing alertness, a 2018 study found that caffeine may improve the brain’s ability to process information [10]. The researchers discovered that caffeine increases brain entropy, which refers to intricate and variable brain activity. A high level of entropy allows the brain to process more information.

Long-term coffee use has also been associated with a lower risk of neurological conditions, including stroke, cognitive decline, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Adults who consumed 3-4 cups daily showed the highest risk reduction [11]. It may be due to coffee’s high concentration of antioxidants [12].

However, consuming caffeine close to bedtime or in excess might have a detrimental effect on your sleep. It can adversely affect your brain and memory.

3. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate comprises 70% or greater cocoa and is high in brain-boosting substances such as flavonoids, caffeine, and antioxidants. Since oxidative stress, linked to age-related cognitive decline and brain illnesses, can severely harm the brain, flavonoids, a form of antioxidant, are particularly crucial for maintaining brain health.

Flavonoids from cacao appear to be beneficial to the brain. A study suggests they might promote blood vessel and neuron growth in brain regions related to memory and learning. They might also increase the brain’s blood flow [13].

Another study also validates dark chocolate’s brain-boosting effects. The researchers employed imaging tools to examine brain activity after subjects consumed chocolate containing at least 70% cacao [14]. The researchers found that eating this type of dark chocolate may boost brain plasticity, which is essential for learning and may provide other cognitive benefits.

4. Berries

Similar to dark chocolate, many berries contain flavonoid antioxidants. Research suggests that these properties may make the berries beneficial to the brain since antioxidants lessen oxidative stress and inflammation. Berries are rich in antioxidants like quercetin, catechin, anthocyanin, and caffeic acid.

According to a review, berries’ antioxidant components have a variety of advantageous effects on the brain, such as [15]:

  • Enhancing communication between neurons
  • Reducing inflammation all over the body
  • Increasing plasticity, which helps brain cells make new connections, enhancing learning and memory
  • Preventing or delaying age-related neurodegenerative illnesses and cognitive decline

Berries high in antioxidants that promote brain health include strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants, and mulberries.

5. Nuts and Seeds

Since nuts and seeds are high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, eating more of them may benefit the brain. Research has shown that consuming nuts can enhance heart health markers, and having a healthy heart is associated with having a healthy brain and a lower chance of neurological problems [16].

According to one study, older persons who regularly eat nuts may be at a lower risk of experiencing cognitive decline [17].

Vitamin E, an antioxidant that shields cells from free radical-induced oxidative stress, is abundant in nuts and seeds. Vitamin E helps delay the onset of mental decline by protecting cells from the damaging effects of free radicals [18].

While all nuts benefit the brain, walnuts may have more advantages since they also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties [19].

6. Broccoli

Broccoli is a low-calorie, high-fiber food that may also benefit the brain. It contains a high concentration of glucosinolates. When the body degrades them, it produces isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates may lessen the risk of neurodegenerative illnesses and oxidative stress [20].

It is also high in vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin required for sphingolipids formation, a type of fat found densely packed in brain cells [21].

Some studies in older persons suggest that a higher vitamin K intake correlates with improved memory and cognitive status [22].

Additionally, broccoli includes substances like sulforaphane, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may help shield the brain from damage. Broccoli sprouts have a high concentration of sulforaphane [23].

7. Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of nutrients linked to brain function, such as choline, folate, and vitamins B6 and B12.

Choline is a vital nutrient your body needs to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and memory. You must obtain choline from food to meet your needs since the liver can only create a limited quantity. Higher intakes may be associated with improved memory and mental function [24].

Eggs contain B vitamins, which are also good for the brain. They may assist in slowing the progression of cognitive decline by reducing levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that may be connected to dementia and Alzheimer’s [25].

Folate deficiency is widespread in dementia patients, and research indicates that folic acid supplementation can help reduce age-related cognitive loss [26]. In addition, vitamin B12 has a role in controlling blood sugar levels and synthesizing brain chemicals.

There is limited direct evidence on the relationship between eating eggs and brain health. However, studies confirm the brain-boosting properties of particular nutrients found in eggs.

8. Green Tea

Caffeine in green tea may enhance mental health by promoting focus, memory, performance, and alertness. Green tea also has additional components that boost brain function.

An amino acid called L-theanine has the ability to pass across the blood-brain barrier and raise GABA neurotransmitter activity, which relieves anxiety and induces relaxation [27].

According to a review, green tea’s L-theanine counteracts the stimulating effects of caffeine, promoting relaxation [28].

Antioxidants and polyphenols found in high concentrations in green tea may shield the brain against mental deterioration and lower the risk of neurodegenerative illnesses. Additionally, green tea might aid with memory improvement [29].

The Bottom Line

Certain foods, like fruits and vegetables, tea, and coffee, include minerals and antioxidants that help safeguard your brain from damage, enhance memory, elevate mood, and promote brain development. You may promote brain health by strategically incorporating these nutrients into your diet.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. It aims to increase public awareness and motivate individuals to donate money or their time to support and research. Besides raising awareness about Alzheimer’s, it aims to provide opportunities to raise funds for research and support services for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. Donate to the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation to help us support the Alzheimer’s family caregivers and provide them with resources.

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