Food for Thought - 5 Basic Foods to Keep Your Brain, Memory Healthy

Food for Thought - 5 Basic Foods to Keep Your Brain, Memory Healthy

Our modern society is more complex than ever and the demands on our mental acuity are often considerable. Add to this the fact that our diets are often insufficient in proper nutrients for optimal function, as well as that we live in environments rife with toxins, and it is not surprising that degenerative diseases have become so prevalent.

It is normal for memory and mental sharpness to decline over time, but with Alzheimer's numbers constantly increasing (said to effect 14 million Americans by 2025), we need to focus on ways to maintain maximum brain health.

Researchers who did autopsies on patients who died of Alzheimers found their brains contained toxic levels of metals like copper, aluminum and iron. You may be surprised at just how much toxic material you are exposed to each day. Excessive iron found in animal meat, iron and aluminum in your pots and pans, aluminum in baking soda, copper from plumbing -- and the list goes on. It is believed that these may be the cause of oxidative damage in the brain. As cells oxidize they lose an oxygen molecule and produce free radicals which do significant amounts of harm throughout the body.

Furthermore, our western diet is overly rich in saturated fats. The Chicago Health and Aging Project found that people who consumed more than 25 grams of saturated fat (from animal meat) were much more likely to develop Alzheimer's.  Scientists found that the higher the level of cholesterol in the blood, and therefore in the brain, the higher the risk of degenerative diseases. Minimizing consumption of animal products is important for brain health.

The result of these findings has led us to a clear understanding of what must be done to maintain proper brain health into old age. Firstly, removing toxic metals can be achieved by smarter dietary choices and by monitoring one's environment.  Aluminum and copper levels can be decreased by avoiding baking soda, tap water, certain deodorants, certain cookware, etc. This will help reduce toxicity which leads to oxidative stress. Iron, which is important at the right levels, but dangerous at higher levels, can still be derived from vegetables, particularly leafy greens, and in a better form than animal proteins.

Avoid animal fats. Critical fats like omega-3 and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can be found in oily fish, seeds, buts, olives, kale, broccoli, collards -- again, leafy greens are all good sources of ALA. Also, higher levels of blood sugar in the blood are associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's, so avoiding simple starches and animal fats (interferes with insulin’s ability to work,) and opting for fiber rich vegetables, is an important choice.

On the flip side, we can prevent and offset oxidation by getting plenty of anti-oxidants in our diet. Anti-oxidants like vitamin C, E, and B's destroy free radicals and reduce homocysteine levels (also harmful). In the Chicago study, it was found that food can have a significant impact on brain function. People with higher levels of vitamin E had a fifty percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's. MRI scans showed that people with higher levels of vitamin B's had lower amounts of brain atrophy.

So now that we know the basic biochemistry of brain health, we can make better decisions to improve not only our brain's operation but also the danger of it breaking down over time. It seems like we say it over and over again, for all sorts of varied reasons, but foods rich in soluble fiber and anti-oxidants are the root of your good health. If you want to maintain good brain health and keep it well into your twilight years, here are the foods to get into your daily diet:

Omega-3 and ALA rich foods -

Your brain loves omega–3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA.) These are central to brain functions, promoting neuron growth and helping improve communication between brain cells. Research done at the Unviersity of Pittsburgh showed that increasing omega-3 intake led to higher working memory test scores. Excellent sources of these good fats are oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines, seeds like sesame, sunflower, flax and chia, olives and olive oil, lentils, and nuts like walnuts and brazils. Avocados, one of my favorites, is also excellent for brain health.

Berries -

The number one food source for anti-oxidants is berries, and in fact, some scientists call them "brainberries." A meta study done at Brigham and Harvard suggested that berries, rich in anthocyanins, a flavonoid, had consistently significant benefits to brain function. Studies at Tufts University showed evidence that the consumption of blueberries may be effective in improving or delaying short term memory loss, and a Harvard study in the Annals of Neurology reported that eating more blueberries and strawberries reduced the rate of cognitive decline.  It appears that berries alter how neurons in the brain communicate with each other, helping improve movement control, memory and function.

Try to eat a half cup of berries -- blueberries, blackberries, acai, strawberries, cranberries, camu camu, boronia, etc -- three times a week for optimal benefits. The great news is that berries can be dried and used as supplements without losing nutrient density or availability (often actually increasing in potency.) Look for a premium quality supplement that contains both berries and resveratrol for an ideal combination. Resveratrol (from red grapes) has recently achieved acclaim for its anti-inflammatory qualities.

Greens -

Green vegetables, but especially leafy greens and cruciferous, are an ideal food source for brain health. Enriched with vitamin C, vitamin K, and choline, many greens like broccoli, kale, collards, and spinach are literal super foods for the brain. Choline helps maintain neurotransmitters levels and boosts memory, vitamin K boosts cognitive power, and fatty acids help delay the age-related decline. Try to eat a broad variety of these green foods, or use a high-quality vegetable supplement to make sure you are getting the widest range of beneficial nutrients. The key here is also soluble fiber, and while we're on that subject, whole grains are useful too (wheat germ, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, etc.)

Tomatoes -

Tomatoes are also rich in anti-oxidants, especially lycopene, which could help protect against free radical damage that can lead to Alzheimers.

Spices -

Spices can be very high in anti-oxidants.  Turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory which removes proteins in the brain called amyloid plaques that are known to cause Alzheimer's. Oregano is another excellent anti-inflammatory.

Add these foods to your daily diet regimen and you are sure to not only improve your current brain function, but will be able to stave off the ravages of time and environment for as long as possible. Don't forget to drink plenty of water. It sounds simple but it is very important to your brain's optimal state. And finally, look for a high quality brain and memory support supplement as an important part of your healthy regimen.

Related Posts:
Attention Problems and Diet - How You Lose Focus
The Marvel of Vinpocetine for Better Brain Health
Understanding Memory and How to Enhance it 
Brain Health and Inflammation: Staying Sharp

T Deckersbach, S K Das, L E Urban, T Salinardi, P Batra, A M Rodman, A R Arulpragasam, D Dougherty, S B Roberts. Pilot randomized trial demonstrating reversal of obesity-related abnormalities in reward system responsivity to food cues with a behavioral intervention. Nutrition & Diabetes, 2014;

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.

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