Maintaining our brain health is an important aspect of aging well. According to the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for Brain Health, brain health controls a person’s ability to function well in daily life. This includes making smart decisions, problem solving, interacting successfully with others and enjoying emotional balance. The latest research shows a healthy diet and lifestyle can, no matter our age, improve the functioning of our brains—specifically, consuming “brain healthy foods” is one of the most important ways to maintain brain health.
As we age, our brains tend to lose some elasticity, making the connections we need to focus on tasks and remember things more difficult. By ensuring your brain is healthy, you can help prevent these things from happening. According to Harvard Medical School, a healthy diet rich in essential nutrients is one of the key factors in preventing cognitive decline as you age. From maintaining a healthy weight, to eating brain healthy foods, what you put on your plate daily can affect everything from mental clarity to having enough energy to keep up with your grandchildren.
“A healthy diet and lifestyle, no matter our age, improve the functioning of our brains.”
Here are ten brain healthy foods and unique recipes from EatingWell to include in your healthy diet:
Most berries are full of antioxidants, great for boosting the brain. Blueberries can improve your motor skills as well as your overall learning capacity. Berries, such as strawberries, also contain fisetin, a naturally occurring flavonol. Individual flavonols are part of flavonoids, a diverse group of plant chemicals that are found in many fruits and vegetables. Berries are high in flavonoids and are extremely effective at generating new brain cell growth, which improves your memory, generally helping your body function, and protecting against everyday toxins and stressors.
- Chicken and Blueberry Pasta Salad
- Banana-Blueberry Buttermilk Bread
- Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler with Granola Streusel
Nuts are full of Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as folate, vitamin E and vitamin B6—all important nutrients for the brain that allow more clear and positive thinking. Walnuts are the top nut for brain health because they have a significantly high concentration of DHA, a type of Omega-3 fatty acid shown to improve cognitive performance and prevent age-related cognitive decline. Vitamin E intake is also associated with improved cognitive function; almonds and hazelnuts are two of the most concentrated sources of vitamin E.
- Maple-Walnut Tapioca Pudding
- Warm Green Bean Salad with Toasted Walnuts
- Farro Salad with Arugula, Artichokes and Pistachios
Pumpkins are packed with nutrients that support brain health, including B-vitamins like riboflavin and folic acid, and they are also a good source of Vitamin C. B-vitamins help the body convert food into fuel used to produce energy, while C-vitamins act as antioxidants in the body, protecting cells from damage, while contributing to energy levels. Carotenoids, which give pumpkins their bright orange color, act as another antioxidant to help protect the body against disease and improve the immune system. In addition, carotenoids can be converted into vitamin A, which helps the body’s growth, immune system function and eye heath. Don’t skip the pumpkin seeds! They are a great source of dietary fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids, which are good for the heart and gut. They are also a good source of protein, including the amino acid tryptophan, which helps the body produce serotonin, a mood-regulating hormone acting as a “feel good” neurotransmitter, improving mood and relaxation.
Pomegranate juice contains antioxidants that help maintain one’s general well-being. Specifically, pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidant polyphenols, which can reverse cardiovascular disease, vascular inflammation and lower blood pressure. In addition, numerous studies have found that pomegranate juice can protect against cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and arthritis. Knowing how helpful pomegranate juice can be may give you the motivation to make pomegranate juice a permanent component of your diet.
Flax is a lesser-known brain healthy food. Flax, also commonly referred to as linseed, is a seed rich in the plant-based Omega-3 fatty acid, Alpha-linolenic acid, which helps to control blood clotting, build cell membranes in the brain and reduce inflammation. Flax is also used to improve digestive health; it can help lower total blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
6. Leafy Greens
Leafy green vegetables, also referred to as salad greens and vegetable greens, are very important brain-healthy foods. These greens include, but are not limited to: kale, collard greens, spinach, cabbage, romaine lettuce, arugula and more. Leafy greens are full of B vitamins such as vitamin B6, B12 and folate. B vitamins are essential to nerve and brain function. These vitamins make leafy greens a food that effectively fights memory loss. In addition to B vitamins, leafy greens are packed with minerals and have been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
Recipes for Leafy Greens
- Chicken and Kale Soup
- Spinach and Artichoke-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
- Cabbage Roll Chicken Enchiladas
Salmon is full of Omega-3, a fatty acid known to be highly beneficial to the brain—Omega-3 provides more oxygen to the brain, and allows us to retain new information, while still remembering old information. The best fish to eat for brain health are salmon, tuna and herring. These types of fish also contain Vitamin B12, which is important for maintaining healthy nerve and blood vessels and creating DNA. B12-deficiency has been shown to lead to several symptoms such as depression, balance problems, and memory loss, all higher risk factors for seniors.
- Wild salmon is high in potassium
- Salmon may reduce the risk of heart disease
- Salmon may benefit weight control
- Salmon is powerful against inflammation
- Salmon is delicious and versatile in recipes
Eggs are high in protein and are a good source of Vitamin D, which aids in bone health and improves immune systems. Eggs are also full of Vitamin B12, which can help fight brain shrinkage. The yolk is high in choline, the precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps improve memory. Eating one to two egg products a day can be great for your brain.
Green or black tea is full of catechins, natural antioxidants, great for keeping the mind sharp, fresh and functioning properly. Not only can tea components keep your brain working correctly, it can also allow it to relax and help fight mental fatigue. Other studies have found that tea can boost endurance and help reduce the risk of heart attacks, cancers and Parkinson’s disease.
10. Dark Chocolate
It’s true, dark chocolate is perfect for brain health, and besides, who doesn’t love a good piece of chocolate? The flavonoids and antioxidants in dark chocolate that have higher cocoa content have been found to act as a brain food that can potentially protect cognitive function and lower the risk of dementia. Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants and contains important minerals for the brain such as magnesium. Magnesium helps the brain relax and sleep better.
Dark Chocolate Recipes
Take the time to incorporate these ten delicious and brain healthy foods into your diet to help you stay healthy and strong. Try to create one of the recipes to include these smart foods in a fun and creative way! The best diet for your brain is one that’s good for your heart and blood vessels. That means eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, eating lean proteins from fish and legumes and choosing healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil or canola oil, rather than saturated fats such as butter and coconut oil. Following these guidelines, as seen in the Mediterranean diet, not only helps promote long-term health, but helps prevent many age-associated brain diseases and ailments such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. While consuming these foods, make sure to continuously stay active in order to maintain the healthiest and most active lifestyle possible.