If feel your memory isn't as sharp as it used to be, the remedy might be no farther away than your refrigerator. More and more, scientists are learning that certain foods can help you concentrate, stay motivated, improve your memory and protect against age-related cognitive decline.
Research suggests the following strategies will help you build a brain-friendly diet.
Adopt a Mediterranean-style diet
Research published in the journal Neurology found that closely following the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 19 percent lower likelihood of developing memory and thinking problems among men and women, average age 64, and without diabetes. (Participants did not have any memory impairment at the start of the four-year study?
It's thought that the combination of healthy foods in the Mediterranean diet protects the brain by keeping blood vessels healthy. Risk factors that damage blood vessels - high cholesterol, hypertension and high blood sugar - are also risk factors for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease.
The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of eating that's low in saturated fat, high in heart healthy monounsaturated fat and plentiful in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It's primarily plant-based with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts eaten daily.
Make fruit and vegetables part of your daily diet; aim for 2 to 3 fruit servings (e.g. 1 medium sized fruit) and at least 5 vegetable servings (e.g. 1/2 cup cooked or raw or 1 cup salad greens) per day.
Limit red meat to three times per month and keep portion size to 4 ounces. Include fish and poultry more often.
Eat legume-based meals a few times each week; try lentil soup, chickpeas in a salad, vegetarian chili or black bean tacos.
Use olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fat, as your principal source of fat.
One study from New Zealand showed, for the first time, that young adults who took a daily 1.2 gram DHA supplement had improved memory and reaction time compared to those who were given a placebo. (1.2 grams of DHA is equivalent to eating 3 ounces of salmon or 6 ounces of trout each day.)
DHA is the dominant omega-3 fat in the brain where it helps keep the lining of brain cells flexible so memory messages can pass easily between cells. DHA is also thought to prevent the build-up of a protein called beta amyloid, which can interfere with communication between brain cells.
Past studies conducted in older adults have linked higher intakes of fish and higher blood levels of omega-3 fats with a lower risk of dementia, slower brain aging and better memory.
Include oily fish like salmon, trout, Arctic char, herring and sardines in your diet twice a week to increase your intake of DHA. (These fish are also low in mercury.) Enjoy fish baked, grilled or steamed.
If you don't like fish - or you eat it infrequently - consider taking fish oil in capsule or liquid form. Note, though, that fish liver oil capsules are typically not a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Long term intake of fish liver oil may lead to toxicity due to high amounts of vitamin A.
Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries contain polyphenols, natural compounds thought to protect brain cells by fighting free radical damage, reducing inflammation and clearing toxic proteins that accumulate with age.
Other polyphenol-rich fruit include acai berries, cherries, cranberries, plums, pomegranate seeds, prunes and red and purple grapes.
Get your greens
A daily intake of leafy green vegetables such as kale, arugula, Swiss chard, collard greens, rapini, Romaine lettuce and spinach has been shown to slow the rate of cognitive decline in older adults.
Researchers believe the protective effect of leafy greens is due to vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects brain cells from oxidative damage and inflammation.
Include at least one serving (½ cup of cooked greens or 1 cup of salad greens) in your daily diet. Cooked greens contain more antioxidants than raw.
Choose unsaturated fats
Limit your intake of foods high in saturated (animal) fat like butter, cream, cheese and fatty meats. Higher intakes of saturated fat have been linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Prepare foods with unsaturated fats such as olive, canola, peanut and grapeseed oils. To increase your intake of monounsaturated fat include almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and avocado in your diet.
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.