Eating a combination of brain-friendly foods such as leafy greens, berries, fish, nuts and olive oil is thought to delay age-related thinking problems and guard against Alzheimer’s disease.
The following foods provide key nutrients needed to support cognitive function. Even better, many are part of the MIND diet, a pattern of eating tied to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. (MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.)
Fatty fish is loaded with DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the dominant omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain. Here, this omega-3 fat keeps the lining of brain cells flexible so memory messages can pass easily between them.
DHA is also thought to prevent the build-up of beta amyloid, a protein that can impair brain cell communication.
A six-month New Zealand trial, published in 2013, found that adults aged 18 to 45 who took 1.2 g of DHA daily as a supplement (equivalent to 3 ounces of salmon per day) experienced improved memory compared to those assigned the placebo.
Also eat: Anchovies, Arctic char, herring, mackerel, trout
One whole egg provides one-quarter (men) to one-third (women) of a day’s worth of choline (found in the yolk), a nutrient that’s a building block for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory.
Observational studies have associated higher dietary choline intakes to better memory performance in healthy adults.
Also eat: Lean beef, chicken breast, scallops, shrimp, cod, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, wheat germ
These pulses deliver a sustained release of glucose (e.g. they provide low glycemic carbohydrates) – the brain’s preferential fuel – along with plenty of folate, a B vitamin that maintains the integrity of nerve fibres for proper nerve transmission.
Plus, lentils are an outstanding source of iron, a nutrient that helps transport oxygen to the brain. Iron is also needed for healthy nerves and the production of memory neurotransmitters.
Studies show that being even mildly iron-deficient affects learning, memory, and attention.
Also eat: Edamame, enriched whole grain breakfast cereal, adzuki beans, black beans, chick peas, pinto beans, spinach (cooked), peanuts, sunflower seed, lean beef
One medium avocado (200 g) delivers 30 g of fat, two-thirds of it monounsaturated fat, the type that helps reduce inflammation and is thought to improve brain function.
A study published in the Annals of Neurology (2012) found that among 6,183 women aged 65 and older, those who consumed the most monounsaturated fat had better cognitive scores than women who consumed more of their fat as saturated fat (found in animal foods).
One avocado also delivers 40 per cent of a day’s worth folate.
Also eat: Olive oil, olives, peanut butter, peanuts, almond butter, cashews, cashew butter, pecans, and pistachios.
This leafy green is an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant nutrient that plays a key role in protecting brain cell membranes from free radical damage.
You get twice as much vitamin E from frozen spinach as you do from fresh. That’s because spinach is blanched before it’s frozen to preserve freshness, making it denser than raw spinach. (It’s a great addition to smoothies and protein shakes.)
One-half cup of frozen spinach delivers 3.6 mg of vitamin E, one-quarter of your daily requirement (15 mg).
Also eat: Almonds, hazelnuts, wheat germ oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut butter.
This fruit is an exceptional source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that, like vitamin E, protects brain cells from free radical damage. Vitamin C also regenerates the body’s supply of vitamin E and is used to synthesize neurotransmitters.
Studies conducted in older adults have linked lower blood levels of vitamin C with poorer memory tests.
Also eat: Oranges, grapefruit, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, tomato juice, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.
Findings from a 2016 study suggests that being even just slightly dehydrated can impair attention and memory. The researchers subjected 101 undergraduate students to a temperature of 30 degrees C for four hours, over three occasions, during which they either did or did not drink 300 ml of water. All performed a battery of memory tests.
After three hours into the experiment, a greater loss of body weight – as little as 0.72 per cent of total weight – was associated with poorer memory and attention. Those who weren’t allowed to drink water found the tests more difficult to perform than did those who hydrated during study.
Water accounts for 55 to 60 per cent of body mass; hydration status plays an important role in all body functions, including brain function.
Healthy adults living in temperate climates need 12 to 13 cups (men) and 9 cups (women) of water each day. Pregnant women need 10 cups of water each day and women who breastfeed should drink 13 cups. All beverages – excluding alcoholic drinks – count towards your daily water requirement.
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.