Sure, we all know healthy eating is good for our bodies and can potentially ward off various diseases, but studies are also revealing that specific foods can nourish the brain and help prevent mental decline as we age. The food-brain-health connection is a relatively new field of study, but scientists are actively researching this topic, especially with the massive increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease occurring in humans since we are living longer. An estimated 50 million around the world now suffer from dementia, and it’s believed that 130 million people worldwide could be afflicted by 2050. A new case is reported every 3 seconds. Yikes.
As a preventive measure, why not load up on some of the healthy foods that may delay cognitive impairment and keep those synapses firing away? Here are some delicious brain boosters to add to your diet.
Avocado: This source of healthy fat is also full of carotenoids (pigments) that may improve brain performance. A powerful antioxidant, avocados are also high in vitamin C and vitamin E, both of which are associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. They also may help reduce the risk of heart disease, and there’s a link between a healthy heart and a happy brain.
Beets: These root veggies are loaded with nitrates, compounds that can increase blood flow to certain parts of the brain. They are also rich in folate (vitamin B9), which may help fight off dementia and elevate cognitive functioning. And don’t toss out the beet leaves, as they can be steamed like spinach and are rich in vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese.
Blueberries: Steven Pratt, MD, who wrote Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life, calls them “brainberries,” claiming that animal-studies researchers have discovered that blueberries can protect the brain from oxidative stress, helping neurons survive and potentially reducing the effects of dementia or Alzheimer’s. They may also help preserve memory.
Pumpkin seeds: Rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium, these little nuggets have been associated with preventing cognitive decline.
Wild salmon: Studies have shown that foods with omega-3 fatty acids like salmon help the brain function and can improve cognitive performance.
Dark chocolate: This delicious source of memory-boosting antioxidants is also a natural stimulant, which can increase focus and concentration. But remember, milk chocolate doesn’t share these same benefits, so go for the dark.
These are just some of many foods said to help protect our brains and mental capacities. Others include: cinnamon, eggs, green tea, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, turmeric and, of course, kale, which seems to be good for just about everything.
So when you’re planning your next meal and want a brain-boosting feast, make a green salad with beets, avocados and pumpkins seeds, grill some wild salmon, and then have some blueberries and dark chocolate for dessert. That certainly doesn’t sound like medicine, does it?
Here’s to your health!
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Journalist Ann Wycoff has written about wellness, fitness, longevity, travel, spas, food and wine for the past 20 years for magazines like Shape, Fitness, Spa, Outside, Travel + Leisure, Coastal Living, Redbook, Modern Luxury, San Diego Magazine, Redbook, Marin Magazine and more. She lives in Encinitas, California.