8 Best Foods for Maintaining a Healthy Brain
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cognitive decline affects 1 in 9 persons in the United States, which is higher than you may assume (CDC). Fortunately, research indicates that a number of daily behaviors, such as paying attention to what you put on your plate and in your supermarket cart, can reduce your risk for diseases like dementia.
The best nutritional strategy for enhancing brain health outcomes, according to Bonnie J. Kaplan, PhD, a research psychologist and coauthor of The Better Brain: Overcome Anxiety, Combat Depression, and Reduce ADHD and Stress with Nutrition, is to consume whole foods from a variety of food groups and much fewer ultra-processed ones.
The typical Western diet contains a significant amount of ultra-processed foods, which are typically packaged snacks and drinks with high levels of sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats. This is concerning because ultra-processed foods appear to be a major contributor to the risk of cognitive decline. According to a study published in July 2022 in Neurology that followed 72,083 adults 55 or older for an average of 10 years, replacing just 10% of the ultra-processed foods in a person’s diet with the same amount by weight of unprocessed or minimally processed foods was associated with a 19% reduction in dementia risk.
Food is undoubtedly one of the most significant levers we can use when it comes to maintaining a healthy brain. While some foods lack the nourishment required to support mental health, others contain substances that can assist keep your brain functioning properly. Some of the edibles that can help reset your brain’s biological clock and elevate your mood may surprise you. Here is your cheat sheet for the meals (and one drink) you need to remember to include on your shopping list.
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Best Foods for Maintaining a Healthy Brain
Could adding strawberries to your yogurt, cereal, or smoothies, or blending them up, help shield your brain from Alzheimer’s? RUSH University researchers suggest that might be the case. They found that a substance called pelargonidin, which is plentiful in strawberries (more so than other popular berries), may be linked to fewer neurofibrillary tau tangles in the brain. Their study was published in July 2022 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. This is significant because aberrant alterations in tau proteins are one of the main indicators of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.
According to the authors of the study, pelargonidin’s anti-inflammatory properties may lessen overall neuroinflammation, which may prevent these tau proteins from becoming misfolded and enable better transport of nutrients and other vital substances from one region of the brain nerve cells to another.
At this point, we don’t have enough information to tell how many strawberries a person needs to eat to have a brain benefit, but certainly, you can’t go wrong with a daily ½ cup dose of the juicy sweet fruit.
In order to help us stay more hydrated, we need also to keep in mind that strawberries and other fruits can serve as a regular source of water. According to a prior study, allowing yourself to become dehydrated may cause severe impairment in executive function and working memory.
We’ve all heard about green tea’s health advantages, but did you know that matcha is green tea’s superpowered sibling? Both are made from the Camellia sinensis tea plant, but matcha is produced from leaves that are grown in the shade and ground into a fine powder. This means that, according to research, it contains nutrients and antioxidants that protect the brain from the entire leaf, including flavonoids and phenolics.
The brain uses more oxygen than any other organ or body part, which exposes it to a significant amount of oxygen atoms, or free radicals, every day. Free radicals are troublemakers who assault, harm and destroy every brain cell in their path. It is believed that the wear and tear brought on by years of free radical attacks is a factor in the aging process’s progressive loss of memory and mental agility.
Fortunately, the body possesses an army of antioxidants from food sources that neutralize these dangerous oxygen pieces. The best source of these antioxidants is colorful fruit, although green tea is also a good option. According to a comparison study from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, matcha powder has even higher antioxidant levels than regular green tea.
In addition, L-theanine, a special amino acid found in green tea and matcha, may enhance cognitive function, particularly memory function, according to research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food. However, it is unknown if drinking a matcha latte will provide you with enough L-theanine to experience a long-term cognitive advantage.
According to some research, amino acids like theanine, which is contained in green tea, may also be helpful in easing anxiety attacks. it is also important to note that substituting tea for sugary beverages in our diets can have a significant positive impact on our brain health.
In addition to helping you gain lean muscle, eating more protein may help decrease the deterioration of your brain and the onset of dementia. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that adult women and men who consumed more protein than carbohydrates over several years showed fewer signs of waning cognitive functioning. The study was intended to test the relationships between yearly protein intake and age-related cognitive decline.
It was shown that protein from fish, lean poultry, and legumes was particularly advantageous, but intriguingly, plant protein sources were associated with a greater benefit to the brain than many animal-based proteins. According to the study, this is probably because plant-based diets are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help protect the brain from oxidative damage and provide all the building blocks necessary to creating and maintaining a healthy brain.
Maybe an avocado a day will help you avoid the brain doctor. A study published in the journal Nutrients demonstrated that eating avocados regularly for six months significantly improved people’s working memory and problem-solving effectiveness.
The researchers ascribed the advantage to the creamy fruit’s high quantities of bioavailable lutein, an antioxidant that is integrated into our brains after consumption. According to Kaplan, phytonutrients like lutein are derived from whole foods and aid mitochondria in producing enough ATP (the energy molecule) to sustain the body’s cells, including those in the brain.
Far from being a one-hit wonder, avocado is also a good source of fiber, monounsaturated fat, and folate, all of which can slow down the rate at which your brain ages.
The USDA estimates that one avocado contains roughly 322 calories, so if you plan to add more avocado to your toast and salads as a wonderful approach to help slow down the aging process in your brain, you should be aware of this. In order to give your brain a boost, you should preferably replace some of the calories from less healthy foods with those from avocado.
All vegetables are healthy, but Popeye’s preferred green is one of the best for keeping your mind bright and protecting it. Why? Beta-carotene and lutein are two of the many carotenoid antioxidants contained in spinach. They may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older women, according to a study to be published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2020.
One study in the Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience journal found evidence to corroborate this claim, showing that middle-aged subjects with greater levels of lutein showed brain responses more comparable to those of younger people. However, don’t imagine that regularly consuming large amounts of carotenoids can keep your brain in peak condition. Consumptions of these plant substances, which are present in colorful vegetables including leafy greens, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes, must be continuously high for several years in order to be beneficial.
The ability of these anti-oxidant carotenoids to protect brain cells from oxidative damage, which accelerates aging, may contribute to the mechanism. Kaplan explains that “a greater intake of carotenoids is also a marker that a person is consuming an overall whole-foods nutrient-dense diet” that is essential for maintaining brain function. Carotenoids, which are the yellow, orange, and red pigments found in many fruits and vegetables, are the reason why we are advised to eat a rainbow of colors.
In addition to salads, spinach can be blended into pestos, added liberally to frittatas, stirred into stews, curries, and soups at the end of cooking, and blended into smoothies (with other components like fruit, you won’t even taste it).
Choline is a substance you definitely don’t want to skimp on when it comes to our brains. The nerve neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which controls memory, and a unique class of fats called phospholipids that are found in cell membranes are both made of choline, according to Somer. She goes on to say that “in fact,” Alzheimer’s disease is defined by a lack of acetylcholine synthesis. According to research reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, increasing phosphatidylcholine consumption through food may reduce the incidence of dementia and improve cognitive function. Additionally, you should make sure to consume enough choline if you’re expecting a child because research indicates that it may help with newborn brain development.
Somer emphasizes that while the body can create choline with the aid of other nutrients like folic acid and vitamin B12, there are occasions when this production is insufficient to support proper brain function. Eggs can be a great help in the situation. Eggs, more specifically the yolks, are just about the second-richest source of choline in grocery stores, after beef liver, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A single egg provides around 30% of the recommended daily amount of choline, which is good for the brain. Eggs were the main source of phosphatidylcholine in the diets of study participants, as mentioned above. And research published in the journal Nutrients found that those who frequently eat eggs often ingest twice as much choline as persons who don’t.
7. Black Lentils
It’s possible that not all lentils are made equal when it comes to safeguarding our brains. According to a study that appeared in the September 2021 issue of Neurology, persons who had at least half a portion of foods high in plant-based flavonoids daily had a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment than those who consumed less of these foods. Anthocyanins, which are typically found in blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and black lentils, were also found to have some of the highest protective benefits against cognitive decline among individual flavonoids, according to the results, which were based on data from 49,493 women and 27,842 men. Somer claims that these substances have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can improve brain function and delay the onset of cognitive decline.
Additionally, black lentils are a fantastic source of dietary fiber, much like all legumes. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the majority of individuals do not consume the recommended daily amount of fiber, which is 28 grams for adults on a 2,000 calorie diet. This deficiency may be endangering long-term brain health. A high-fiber diet may lower the chance of developing debilitating dementia in persons aged 40 to 64, according to a study that was published in February 2022 in Nutritional Neuroscience. Particularly for soluble fiber, which is present in lentils, the connection was clear.
Although the mechanisms are not yet established, they may entail interactions between the gut and the brain: The microbiome, or collection of beneficial bacteria in the human gastrointestinal tract, can be controlled by fiber, which may have an effect on inflammation in the brain.
8. Canned Sardines
One of the best sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the grocery store is these affordable canned fish, which, according to some studies, may delay age-related cognitive decline. In a study published in the journal Nutrients including 6,587 adults, it was discovered that eating fatty fish, such as sardines and salmon, and consuming moderate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources were linked to a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms. And a study that appeared in The BMJ in July 2021 found a link between higher omega-3 intake and fewer, less severe headaches in people who have these skull crushers.
Dr. Kaplan refers to lipids in the gray matter and adds, “Basically, we are fat heads, as our brains are 60% fat.” Therefore, good fats, such as omega-3s, are necessary for the cell membranes in our brains to operate at their best. She continues by saying that changing the ratio of these fats in our meals can assist reduce inflammation in the brain and make it simpler to maintain higher cognitive performance by ingesting more omega-3 fats and fewer omega-6 ones from highly processed foods. The best recommendation, according to Kaplan, is to aim for two servings of fatty fish per week. “We don’t yet know the ideal amount of seafood to eat for brain health,” Kaplan says.
Sardines in cans are also a good source of vitamin D. According to nutrition data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving offers 193 IU or 24 percent of the recommended value (USDA). Even after taking into consideration a number of dementia risk variables, researchers discovered that older people who consumed the most vitamin D from food were less likely to experience dementia than those who consumed the least.
Alzheimer’s & Dementia released the findings in September 2020. Vitamin D can be seen as crucial along with all of the other nutrients, but we can’t expect to optimize brain function with just one vitamin, adds Kaplan. Any nutrient deficiency, including vitamin D deficiency, is never going to be helpful for brain function.
Few Americans consume enough vitamin D from food or sunlight, therefore it may be a good idea to include canned sardines more frequently in your diet. Try the tiny swimmers in frittatas, spaghetti dishes, and sandwiches.
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