What you eat affects the way your brain functions, but misinformation abounds about what constitutes brain food. Primarily, misleading stories overstate a food’s ability to have a quick effect.
As with all nutrition, you should be in it for the long haul to make a difference in your health.
“Diet, exercise and other aspects of our daily interaction with the environment have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function,” researchers wrote in the Nature Reviews Neuroscience journal. “This raises the exciting possibility that dietary manipulations are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities and protecting the brain from damage, promoting repair and counteracting the effects of aging.”
Here are five foods you can eat to help maintain brain health.
In one study, researchers found that seniors who ate leafy green vegetables had less cognitive decline over a five-year period than those who ate none. The nutrients helping the brain the most included vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta carotene.
“Something as easy as adding more spinach, kale, collards and mustard greens to your diet could help slow cognitive decline,” according to the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Some other veggies with all the necessary nutrients include spinach, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
This popular drink is usually consumed in liquid form, but it is one of the best foods for your brain.
Most people are aware of coffee's effect on keeping you awake and alert when you need a boost. Additionally, several studies have shown coffee boosts reaction time, vigilance and memory, with the greatest benefit going to habitual coffee drinkers. It also improves people’s moods.
Drinking coffee in middle age is also associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life, according to a Journal of Alzheimer's Disease study.
Eating berry fruits — a group that includes grapes, tomatoes and bananas in addition to the obvious strawberries, raspberries and blackberries — can prevent age-related brain decline, according to research in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
“In addition to their now well-known antioxidant effects, dietary supplementation with berry fruits also has direct effects on the brain,” the researchers wrote.
Researchers found the benefits of berries to cells and animals extended to humans in clinical trials. Those benefits include the following:
- Reduced inflammation and increased cell survival
- Enhanced neuroplasticity — The brain has the ability to change at any age.
- Neurotransmission — This refers to the brain’s ability to communicate between cells called neurons.
- Calcium buffering — This also deals with communication between cells, where changes in calcium make a difference.
In the largest study to look at the connection between chocolate and brain function, researchers found a positive relationship between people who eat chocolate and their cognitive abilities.
“Regular intake of cocoa ?avanols may have a bene?cial effect on cognitive function, and possibly protect against normal age-related cognitive decline,” researchers wrote for the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study.
Study participants, ranging in age from 23 to 98, who said they ate chocolate at least once a week, performed better on multiple tests, including ones for visual-spatial memory and organization, working memory, scanning and tracking, and abstract reasoning.
Eating extra-virgin olive oil protects against Alzheimer’s, according to research in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. In fact, olive oil is the key to why the Mediterranean diet is touted as beneficial to brain health. However, researchers pointed out they have more work to do to understand the reason for olive oil’s effects on the brain.
You can eat olive oil many ways, including by adding it to salads and pastas, combining it with spices for a bread dip and cooking with it.
None of the above foods are miracle cures that will save your brain, but when incorporated into your diet for the long term, they can all help your brain stay healthy.
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