Posted on August 1, 2014 by Beatrice Huston
Culturally speaking, we place a great deal of emphasis on physical health and the actions we take to keep our bodies healthy. But what about our brains? As some of us age, we experience a decline in cognitive ability, memory loss and a general lag in mental processing. So, it is important to focus on not only how we keep our bodies healthy, but also our brains.
A simple place to start is with your diet. Naturally, foods high in essential nutrients and vitamins are the best choices. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a brain-healthy diet is “one that reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, encourages good blood flow to the brain and is low in fat and cholesterol.”
Here are five foods thought to help with cognitive function and memory retention:
- Blueberries: Steven Pratt, M.D., calls blueberries “brainberries” because of how beneficial they are for cognitive health. Blueberries help insulate the brain from oxidative stress—which can cause cellular mutations, tissue breakdown and immune compromise. Oxidative stress has been tied to memory conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Eat more blueberries and fight off oxidative stress!
- Blackberries: Another berry! As we age, our brain cells become inflamed, making it more difficult for them to communicate with each other. A 2009 study from Tufts University found that blackberries give your body powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols, which prevent inflammation and promote neuron communication. This helps improve our ability to learn new information.
- Avocados: Also according to Pratt, avocados are almost as effective as blueberries for brain health. Avocados are a monounsaturated fat, which increases healthy blood flow. Ann Kulze, M.D., says, “Healthy blood flow means a healthy brain.” Avocados lower blood pressure, which helps cognitive function. They are rich in a fatty acid called oleic acid. This particular acid helps in the process of building myelin, a coating of insulation found in white matter of the brain. Myelin helps information travel quickly through the brain; a deficiency of myelin slows the delivery of information.
- Walnuts: Walnuts are a great source of anti-inflammatory nutrients, meaning they help promote blood flow—like an avocado—which allows for more efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain. Research presented at the 2010 International Conference on Alzheimer’s found that mice with the disease that were regularly fed walnuts experienced improved memory, learning and motor skill coordination. Finally, walnuts are important because they are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for healthy cognitive function.
- Salmon: Another omega-3 super food. Fish is a healthy way to add protein to your diet and most oily fish are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. A benefit of omega-3 is that it contains anti-inflammatory substances similar to those found in blackberries. Omega-3 has been deemed an essential fatty acid because the body cannot synthesize it itself; it must be obtained through diet.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this list of foods, try them in small doses. For example, walnuts triple melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms, making walnuts a great bedtime snack to promote healthy brain function as well as a more peaceful sleep. Blueberries and blackberries with a little yogurt or cream make a delicious breakfast or afternoon snack. Half an avocado makes a wonderful addition to lunch or dinner, or if you halve an avocado and squeeze lemon juice on it with a little salt and pepper, it makes a great snack. If you are having a hard time finding salmon as a lunch or dinner option, try other oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, herring and fresh tuna.
Let’s challenge ourselves not only to stay physically health conscious, but also cognitively health conscious!