This was originally written for and published on MarthaStewart.com on June 30, 2016.
Are you making the smartest decisions about food? We’re not talking about calories.
We’re talking about foods that actually help improve brain function. If you ever find yourself being forgetful or sluggish, add these foods to your diet, now!
Because the body cannot produce Omega-3 fats, they must be attained from the food we consume. They have come to be recognized as beneficial fats for their cardioprotective and anti-inflammatory benefits, but you may not know that they are equally important for supporting the brain. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is one type of omega-3 which has been shown to help prevent cognitive decline in aging adults. Cold-water fatty fish such as herring, sardines, and salmon will provide adequate amounts of this powerful brain nutrient.
Throughout history and in folk medicine, this evergreen plant has been prized for its ability to help stimulate memory. This therapeutic herb has possible neuroprotective properties that make it a promising plant to have handy to stave off decline in normal brain function.
This root, a bright orange cousin to ginger, has become more widely known in recent years for its superfood status, and rightfully so. Curcumin, one of the most researched active constituents in turmeric is believed to be mostly responsible for its brain and neurological benefits — research is demonstrating that it can minimize oxidative stress, improve mitochondrial function and help to promote healthy dilation of vessels in the brain and throughout the body.
Everybody’s favorite treat it is packed with polyphenols, plant compounds that promote healthy aging and combat degradation of cells. Cocoa also naturally contains theobromine, an alkaloid with stimulating properties — similar to caffeine but without the effect on the central nervous system. Win, win.
EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) is a well-researched polyphenol, found in green tea. Besides helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and aiding in weight management, EGCG has been shown to support neural cells and can benefit memory and cognitive function. In the case of certain neurodegenerative diseases, we see an accumulation of amyloid plaques. Research has discovered that EGCG may prevent the formation of these proteins that can form in the brain.
Nuts in general are packed full of nutrients such as fiber and plant sterols delivering a range of health benefits. Walnuts in particular contain vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that can scavenge free radicals that accumulate in the body, a normal process that comes with aging. They are also a good plant source of the omega-3 fatty acids, which support optimal brain performance and cognition.
Similar to rosemary, sage also contains a variety of compounds which yield the brain-boosting attributes like the volatile oils and flavonoids (plant nutrients). Rosmarinic acid is a component found in sage which bears antioxidant qualities. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, certain enzyme inhibitors present while plaques begin to form in the brain. Research has shown that these beneficial chemicals in sage may work to inhibit the increase of these detrimental enzyme inhibitors.
Here is a great source of choline, a nutrient responsible for supporting proper nerve and brain activity as well as liver health. Inadequate choline in the body could contribute to cognitive decline and memory loss while sufficient amounts ensure the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that may play a role in memory formation. Eggs, and particularly the yolk also contain DHA, the omega-3 fatty acid that is critical to brain development in children but also nourishing for the brains of aging adults.
This vegetable is not only packed with disease-fighting antioxidants but is an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral in which many individuals are deficient. Research has found that increasing consumption of magnesium may help prevent memory loss associated with aging. Magnesium also plays a role in nerve health while also helping to promote relaxation of blood vessels, therefore improving circulation of blood to parts of the body, including the brain.
There is no denying the countless attributes that this superfood and cooking fat possesses. So, what is exactly in the oil that makes it so special? Medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs for short, are a unique type of fat that is present in higher concentrations in coconut. When the body consumes the MCTs and they are metabolized, ketone bodies are released which are a preferred form of fuel — especially for the brain.
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