Scan any list of so-called super foods and you'll find berries at the top. Their superfood status is credited to their outstanding polyphenol content, natural compounds linked with many health benefits including improving memory and slowing cognitive decline.
It's thought that polyphenols in berries protect the brain through their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.
Research also suggests that berries can activate the brain's natural house-cleaning process, helping remove toxins and other compounds that can interfere with brain function.
The main source of polyphenols? Your diet. While all berries are excellent sources so are cherries, cranberries, plums, pomegranate seeds, prunes, red and purple grapes and walnuts.
Besides berries other foods have also been shown to slow brain aging. Evidence suggests it's worth adding the following brain-friendly foods to your diet.
Thanks to their high polyphenol content, berries protect brain cells by fighting free radical damage, reducing inflammation and increasing the clearance of toxic proteins that accumulate with age.
When berries are out of season, add frozen and dried berries to your diet. One serving is equivalent to ½ cup (125 ml) fresh or frozen berries or ¼ cup (50 ml) dried.
In addition to the usual blueberries, strawberries and raspberries other polyphenol-rich fruit include acai berries, cherries, cranberries, plums, pomegranate seeds, prunes and red and purple grapes.
To get the full range of hundreds of phytochemicals found in these foods, eat whole fruit more often than juice.
Adding a handful of walnuts to your diet is another way to keep your brain healthy. A previous study found that a walnut-rich diet - equivalent to 1 oz or 14 walnut halves in humans - was able to reverse age-related motor and cognitive deficits in aged rats.
Polyphenols in walnuts are thought to protect the brain by fending off free radicals and promoting communication between brain cells and the growth of new brain cells. Like berries, walnuts also activate the brain's house-cleaning process.
A study of 3,718 Chicago residents aged 65 and older, found that people who ate more than two vegetable servings each day had a 40 percent slower rate of cognitive decline compared to their peers who ate less than one serving. Leafy green vegetables such as kale, arugula, Swiss chard, collard greens, rapini, Romaine lettuce and spinach offered the most protection.
(Age-related cognitive decline - the subtle decrease in memory and thinking processes - is considered to be a normal consequence of getting older.)
Scientists attribute their protective effect of leafy greens to vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects brain cells from oxidative damage and inflammation.
One serving is equivalent to ½ cup (125 ml) of cooked greens or 1 cup (250 ml) of salad greens. Read: 15 weays to add leafy greens to your diet.
Eating oily fish on a weekly basis may also keep your brain healthy as you age. A four year study of older adults revealed that those who ate fish at least once per week - compared to rarely or never - were 60 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.
Another study linked regular fish consumption to a 60 percent lower risk of dementia, in particular Alzheimer's dementia.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish, especially DHA (docosahexanaenoic acid), make up 60 percent of the communicating membranes of the brain where they keep the lining of brain cells flexible so memory messages can pass easily between cells.
DHA also reduces inflammation and may prevent the build-up of a protein called beta amyloid, which can interfere with communication between brain cells.
The best sources of DHA include salmon, trout, sardines, Arctic char, mackerel and herring. (These fish are also low in mercury.)
Limit your intake of foods high in saturated (animal) fats like butter, cream, cheese and fatty meats. Saturated fat can damage arteries and a higher intake has been linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Prepare foods with unsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, and non-hydrogenated margarine. Eat avocado and almonds more often, good sources of heart-healthy fat.
These fats help reduce inflammation, blood clot formation, and hardening of the arteries in the brain. The fat in salad dressing and cooking oils also helps the body absorb vitamin E in leafy greens.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.