Improve Your Memory with the right foods
When we want to start eating a healthier diet, we usually look for foods that are good sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients. As we look for healthy foods for the body, health experts say we should also look for the best foods that promote brain health.
A growing number of studies report that a consistent diet of colorful vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, and proteins can build brain tissue and reduce inflammation. In the same way, research shows that long-term consumption of foods with excess sugar, salt, and saturated fats can have damaging effects on the brain, including parts of the brain that are important to memory.
If there were a list of best foods for brain health, the following foods would top the list based on studies and recommendations from health experts:
The small, round fruit with a dark blue hue has been the subject of many scientific studies that show its nutritious benefits. One study involving 296 participants between 65-80 years old found that daily consumption of wild blueberries improved the speed that the brain processes information, especially in people 75–80 years of age. Lila explained that blueberries contain flavonoids which “improve brain tissue by depressing inflammation and not allowing oxidative stress to impair brain functioning.” The key, Lila says, is to eat blueberries every day to get the benefits. “You have to eat a serving a day, you can’t just load up on weekends,” she said.
Wild-caught salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats needed to build brain cells and provide energy to other cells throughout the body. According to a 2022 study, the red blood cells of participants who ate salmon, cod, tuna, and other cold-water fish, had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, better brain health, and improved abstract reasoning and logical thinking in middle age. In addition, the omega-3 fatty acids slowed cognitive decline and decreased the risk of developing dementia.
It may take some effort to scramble, fry, or poach an egg, but the resulting health benefits are worth it. Eggs are a rich source of protein and vitamins. Eggs also contain nutrients, such as lutein, an antioxidant that helps to prevent or treat eye diseases, and choline, which helps to regulate memory, mood, and other brain functions. A 2021 study found that eating one egg a week was associated with slower rates of memory decline over a period of three to four years compared to consuming little to no eggs.
Coffee drinkers probably do not realize that their favorite morning beverage not only helps to wake them up but also boosts their brain health. Researchers have found that coffee could help slow cognitive decline and improve planning and decision-making abilities. But too much of the morning stimulant can have the reverse effect on the brain. One study found that drinking more than six cups of coffee a day was associated with a 53 percent increase in the risk of dementia.
When shopping, what foods are the best?
Many more foods support brain health, but how do you know what foods are best? Marc Milstein, a neuroscience researcher and brain expert says he believes in keeping things simple. Milstein, author of The Age-Proof Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Fight Off Dementia, says when he goes shopping, he puts the following foods in his grocery cart:
• Fatty fish like salmon
• Cruciferous vegetables like arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens
What’s more, when searching for beneficial food, Milstein says he asks himself the following questions:
• Will it spoil? Additives and preservatives keep food from spoiling, but they also may be harmful to beneficial gut bacteria. So, in many cases, Milstein says, “perishable is a good thing.”
• Do you see a rainbow on the plate? The chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors also help improve brain health and memory.
• Are there tons of ingredients in packaged foods? If so, can you pronounce the ingredients or does it look like the makings of a chemical experiment? Avoid the food if sugar is one of the first few ingredients.
What foods are bad?
While the brain uses sugar for fuel, too much sugar, over time, can damage blood vessels and tissues in the brain, which can lead to premature aging and cardiovascular disease.
Milstein says that excess sugar, usually hidden in packaged foods, can add up. Milstein recommends looking for the following sugars in the ingredients list:
Milstein also recommends being wary of products that contain syrup, such as agave nectar syrup or high-fructose corn syrup.
Studies have found that many popular foods and beverages have excess sugar and other chemicals that may lead to impaired memory. Among the foods health experts recommend avoiding or minimizing include:
1. Baked goods
Cakes, pies, cookies, and candies may be delicious comfort foods, but the excess sugar, trans fat (the worst kind of fat), and partially hydrogenated oils can wreak havoc on the brain and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. A 2019 study found that adults over 60 with the highest levels of trans fat in their blood were 50 percent more likely to develop any form of dementia and 39 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Artificial sweetener, which acts as “substitute sugar” in foods, diet sodas, and beverages, inhibits essential brain functions and has been associated with an increased risk of learning problems, irritability, and other neurobehavioral health issues.
3. Fast foods
Just as fruits and vegetables are found on the lists of healthy foods, fast food usually tops the list of foods to avoid due to high levels of fat, salt, and sugar. Fast foods are generally highly processed and lack nutrients.
Research presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference found that adults who got at least 20 percent of their calories from fast foods and other highly processed foods had a 25 percent faster decline in their abilities to plan and carry out tasks. For people under 30, eating fast food more than three times a week was linked to higher rates of mental distress, according to the report.
Too much alcohol can turn happy hour into an unhappy time in a person’s life since research shows that continual alcohol consumption can cause brain damage and make it difficult to learn and form new memories. One study found that increasing beer consumption from half a beer a day to a full pint had the same impact on the brain as aging two years.
This does not mean that people should give up drinking alcohol entirely. Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University, recommends drinking in moderation.
In all, Lila suggests keeping in mind that when it comes to foods and brain health, the brain is a complicated organ, and different foods will have different impacts on the brain.