Research is showing that food can have a significant effect on mental function. There’s no denying that as our body ages, our brain gets older along with it. Just as it is important to maintain a healthy body, it is just as important to ensure we are caring for our mind.
Dr. Gomez-Pinilla analyzed over 160 studies about foods effect on the brain. This analysis showed that dietary manipulations can be a promising strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the negative effects of aging.
I don’t know about you, but my brain health is important to me. It holds my memories, my fears, my dreams, my wisdom and my identity. It is the foundation of my intelligence. It is what helps me perceive senses, it moves my body, and it controls my behavior. My job is to keep my brain healthy for as long as possible. And I want to help you do the same!
Here are 11 smart foods that will help you train your brain.
Blueberries are known for their amazing antioxidant, immune-boosting benefits. But did you know that berries can also promote brain health? Blueberries are loaded with a type of flavonoid called anthocyanins which are pigments responsible for the berries deep blue color. But anthocyanins do more than just provide color.
In a six-year study of 16,010 elderly nursing home patients, a greater intake of blueberries and strawberries was associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline by up to 2.5 years. This slower decline rate was also attributed to the greater intake in anthocyanins and total flavonoids contained within the berries.
Blueberries also appear to be associated with increased neuronal signaling which can help with memory and improve glucose disposal.
One study investigated 9 older adults with mild cognitive impairment who were given blueberry juice everyday for 12 weeks. The results showed improved memory function, diminished depressive symptoms and reduced fasting glucose levels.
The flavonoids in blueberries seem to have promising benefits for improved brain functions and slower cognitive decline.
Studies have shown that adding 2% more blueberries to your diet resulted in significant improvements in spatial working memory. These results were seen within 3 weeks of eating more blueberries.
Salmon and other oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, fats that are crucial to our health. Here are just a few of the many benefits of omega-3’s:
- Reducing the risk for heart disease
- Regulating cholesterol levels
- Aiding in growth and development
- Promoting brain health
A diet higher in omega-3’s may help lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease as well as stroke.
One study compared those who consumed fish less than weekly and those who consumed fish meals once and twice per week. Those who consumed fish once per week had a 10% slower cognitive decline rate than those who consumed less fish. The participants who consumed fish twice per week had a 13% slower cognitive decline rate.
As we age our brains lose grey matter, which may affect our brain health. Grey matter contains most of the brains neuronal cell bodies and serves to process information.
In another study, that investigated the effects of fish consumption on structural integrity of the brain, showed a correlation between fish consumption and larger quantities of grey matter. In cognitively normal adults who consumed fish at least weekly, grey matter volumes were larger (4.3% and 14% respectively) in areas of the brain responsible for memory and cognition.
Consuming fish a minimum of once per week may slow down cognitive decline, is associated with more grey matter in the brain upon aging, and may help lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Grass Fed Beef
Grass fed beef is a great source of vitamin B12. One serving of ground beef supplies you with all of the vitamin B12 you need in a day plus more! The National Institutes of Health recommends 2.4 mcg per day for the average healthy adult. One serving of ground beef contains 9.6mcg; that’s over 150% of the recommended daily value!
Some of the jobs of vitamin B12 include:
- Red blood cell formation
- Neurological function
- DNA synthesis
There may also be a link between vitamin B12 and Alzheimer’s disease. A study measuring vitamin B12 levels in relation to Alzheimer’s disease showed that subjects with lower levels of vitamin B12 had twice the higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
Iron is also a very important and essential mineral found in beef. The primary role of iron is to carry oxygen and carbon dioxide within the red blood cells from your lungs to other organs and tissues.
Iron is related to cognitive performance and can improve mental functioning in adults who are deficient. One study measured the cognitive responses to beef consumption in young women. Body iron significantly improved cognitive functioning.
A high-protein diet has also been associated with improved cognitive function. Beef contains about 22 grams of protein per serving, which is almost half of the recommended daily serving. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans protein should make up about 10% to 35% of daily total calories.
One study investigating the effects of a high protein meat diet on cognitive functions, found that men who were fed a high protein diet improved their reaction time.
Organic, grass-fed beef is a great source of protein and essential vitamins and minerals. It can help to improve brain functioning and may reduce risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
It is important to eat grass fed beef in moderation. Grass fed beef along with red unprocessed and processed meats have been linked to cancer.
This beautiful, deep-red root vegetable packs more than just a unique taste. Beetroots (or beetroot juice) have many beneficial health benefits, some of which may:
- Increase stamina to help you exercise longer
- Improved oxygen use during exercise
- Improve overall exercise performance
These positive effects are prescribed to natural chemicals in beets called nitrates. Nitrates are converted to nitric oxide in the body which helps with blood flow and blood pressure.
Increasing research shows that beets may have implications on brain health as well as physical performance.
A study done at Wake Forest University showed for the first time that drinking beet juice can increase blood flow to the brain in older adults. This finding may shed hope on the potential to fight the progression of dementia.
Mental fatigue brought on during high-intensity exercise can have implications on central processing and cognitive abilities. This was shown in a study that measured the reaction time of participants exercising at different intensities. Try bringing some beetroot juice to the gym with you in a water bottle for a better workout.
Interestingly, a study done at The University of Exeter in the UK, looked at the effect of dietary nitrate in the form of beet juice on sprint performance and cognitive function. In the study, 16 male athletes received three different doses of concentrated beetroot juice for 7 days. On day 7 subjects completed specific exercises while simultaneously performing cognitive tasks.
The results indicated that beetroot juice, when taken in proper dosage, can enhance sprint performance and the decline in cognitive performance due to mental fatigue.
As for dosage, the study suggests taking two concentrated beetroot shots a day (with about 0.6g natural dietary nitrate) about 2.5 hours before exercise.
All my life my mother and father tried to force feed me beetroots. I struggle to this day to eat beetroots, but after all of this research I think the benefits out weigh the taste!
Attention my fellow chocolate lovers! Dark chocolate has numerous health benefits! It’s very high in antioxidants, beating even some super-fruits like blueberries! It may protect LDL (good cholesterol) levels and decrease HDL (bad cholesterol) levels and can protect your skin from sun damage.
Another health benefit of dark chocolate may improve brain function. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of dark chocolate lie in its high content of cocoa (chocolate must have 70% cocoa or above to be considered dark). Numerous studies have shown the effects of cocoa and dark chocolate on cognitive function.
One study demonstrated that the flavonoids in cocoa chocolate may help to improve brain function in elderly persons with mild cognitive impairment. Another study completed in 2006, tested the response to a cognitive task in 16 healthy volunteers. After 5 days of ingesting a high-flavonoid cocoa, the study showed increased blood flow to the brain. Both of these studies show a possible treatment in dementia.
Dark chocolate can also help with concentration. It contains a small amount of caffeine which is well-known to help give a mental edge. Some studies also suggest that it may have mood-boosting and de-stressing effects.
Next time you buy your girlfriend some chocolate, aim for the dark chocolate box as the healthier alternative.
Okay so maybe you can’t eat this one. But research has shown that exercise is not just important for your body. It’s also important in keeping your memory sharp and your brain healthy.
A study done on rats showed that rats that were more exercised and were put on a swimming regimen of 1 hour a day, 5 days a week exhibited better short and long-term memory than less exercised rats.
Human studies have had similar results. A meta-analysis of eighteen intervention studies found that fitness training had powerful effects on cognition, particularly on executive-control processes.
Taking care of ourselves is not just crucial for a healthy body, but for a healthy brain as well. Eating the right types of foods and getting enough exercise can not only increase concentration, but can promote happiness, improve cognitive function and maybe even decrease the risk, or slow down the effects, of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s take care of our minds!
What are your favorite healthy brain foods? Do you have any to add to this list? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below!