Having a few too many tip-of-the-tongue moments for comfort? It’s never too early to start eating foods for brain health!
Are you feeding your brain the nourishment it deserves? There’s a reason the Standard American Diet abbreviates to SAD… that's how it makes your mind feel!
The average American consumes sugary drinks, refined carbs, and trans fats every day in the form of super-processed foods. The SAD diet increases your risk of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, and it can lead to problems with memory and learning.
On the other hand, eating the right foods may reduce cognitive decline as you age, affect your brain's elasticity, and protect against degenerative brain diseases.
The bottom line: your diet has a strong hand in your brain health… which is good because what you eat is something you can control!
6 foods you can eat for brain health
Your brain requires a complicated mix of over 45 nutrients to function daily, so it's hard to list every single food that could impact your brain health for the better. (There are a lot of them!)
But here are seven foods that stand out as total brain-power foods:
1. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds
These tasty super-seeds are great sources of essential omega fatty acids, which are critical for brain development and function.
- Chia seeds are the best dietary source of ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid, one of the omega-3 acids that your body uses to fuel brain function throughout your life
- Flaxseeds are a second-best source of ALA
- Hempseeds are another great source of ALA and a balanced source of omega-6 fatty acids
Scratching your head over how to cook with seeds? Throw a handful into a smoothie, over a salad, or into a bowl of yogurt or oatmeal. They add a crunchy texture and may give your brain wings to fly!
2. Spinach, kale, chard, and other dark leafy greens
How’s your salad game looking? One recent study found that eating 1.3 servings (that’s a little over half a cup cooked or a cup raw) of green leafy vegetables per day had significant effects on the participants’ cognitive functioning levels.
In fact, the people who regularly chowed down on greens “showed cognitive abilities of people 11 years younger,” as AARP described it.
So, what qualifies as dark leafy greens? Fill your salad bowl with these:
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Swiss chard
3. Extra-virgin olive oil is one of the best foods for brain health
The type of oil you cook with matters more than you think! Reach for extra-virgin olive oil instead of that abstract bottle of “vegetable” oil.
A 2017 study showed that extra-virgin olive oil “protects memory and learning ability and reduces the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain.”
Amyloid-beta-what now? That second part describes physical markers of Alzheimer's disease, the fatal, degenerative brain disease that’s distressingly common and potentially linked to diet.
Just be aware that EVOO burns on high heat, so don’t think you’re going to sizzle up some hibachi in 10 minutes (you can, but you’ll have to take the batteries out of the fire alarm halfway through). Keep the heat a little lower, and you can avoid any smoke damage!
4. Dark chocolate (and we mean DARK)
If you’re a chocoholic, gear up. Because it’s about to get good!
A 2018 study suggested that dark chocolate with 70% cacao content “enhances neuroplasticity for behavioral and brain health benefits.”
People enrolled in this study ate 48 grams of dark chocolate, then took an EEG test, which revealed that the participants’ cerebral cortical brain regions had an increase in gamma frequency. That means the brain regions involved in memory and sensory processing became more active.
That’s a pretty good reason to make chocolate a part of your regular life! Beware of milk chocolate, though; it doesn’t have anywhere near the same cacao content, and there’s typically much more sugar: these both negate the health effects of high-content (70% cacao or higher) dark chocolate.
5. Beans and legumes
The MIND diet is an up-to-date diet for brain health in 2020, and it includes subbing beans and legumes for meat at any opportunity. There’s solid research about this approach, indicating that it may:
- Slow brain aging by up to 7.5 years
- Lower your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease
In fact, if you’re following the MIND diet, you’ll ideally limit meat to four times a week or less, and eat beans at least four times a week (or more!).
Try subbing beans and lentils for meat in meals like chili, soups, and casserole bakes. Your brain might thank you!
6. Blueberries and strawberries
We’re not going to knock an apple a day, but what if a strawberry a day was the way to a better brain?
Berries are one of the best foods for brain health. They're packed with flavonoids, potent little compounds which act as antioxidants that may funnel cell-damaging free radicals away from your brain and nervous system. It turns out that flavonoids are super important, and most of us don’t get enough of them!
A 2012 study followed 16,000 adults beginning in 1980 and ending in 1995-2001 when they were in their 70s. It found that “greater intakes of blueberries and strawberries were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline.”
Feed your brain health with these foods—plus, chill it out a little with Sunday Scaries
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