There’s absolutely no doubt that what you put in your mouth plays a major role in brain health, says registered dietician Mayuri Bhawan from Nutritional Solutions in Johannesburg.
The best foods for boosting memory and brain function encourage better blood flow to the brain — much like what you’d eat to nourish and protect your heart.
Best brain food diet
A recent study found that the Mediterranean Diet – a cooking style that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and moderate amounts of protein with healthy fats, can help to keep your brain in tip-top shape.
“In fact, a growing body of evidence links foods like those in the Mediterranean diet with better cognitive function, memory and alertness,” adds Mayuri.
Add these 5 superfoods to your diet and you’ll increase your odds of a healthier brain for life:
1. Whole Grains
Like everything else in your body, your brain can’t function without energy. The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate, steady supply of energy in the form of glucose to fuel the brain and keep it young.
The best way to achieve this is by choosing high-fibre whole grains, which release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day.
Opt for whole grain cereals, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat and barley over processed white grains such as white bread, muffins and sugary treats.
2. Dark Green, Leafy Veggies
Green vegetables such as kale, chard, spinach and broccoli are linked to heart health because of their powerful combination of disease-fighting fibre, vitamins and antioxidants. More recently, they’ve been found to have anti-ageing benefits for the brain too, says Mayuri.
A long-term study from Harvard showed that women who ate the most cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage (they contain the phytochemicals indoles and isothiocyanates) and green leafy vegetables showed less cognitive decline than women who ate fewer of these veggies.
Plus, they also scored better on tests measuring general cognition and memory. Try to include at least a ½ cup of green vegetables in your diet every day says Mayuri.
Berries, especially dark ones like blackberries, blueberries and cherries are a rich source of the antioxidant, anthocyanin and other flavonoids that help to improve memory, while delaying short-term memory loss.
This is because anthocyanin helps to reduce oxidation and free radical damage to brain cells. Plus anthocyanins may help ward off neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Mayuri recommends including at least a ½ – ¾ cup serving of these fruits in your daily diet.
4. Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) can’t be made by the body, which means they must be obtained through your diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish in the form of EPA and DHA.
These fats are important for healthy brain function as Low DHA levels have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.
DHA, in particular, has been shown to help boost the part of the brain associated with memory. The main sources of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and pilchards.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, include good plant sources such as linseed (flaxseed), soya beans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and their oils and consider supplementing with microalgae.
Having sufficient levels of both EPA and DHA is thought to help us manage stress and helps make the good mood brain chemical, serotonin.
Nuts have a whole host of benefits, particularly for the brain. Walnuts especially contain a number of neuroprotective compounds, including vitamin E, folate, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants. All of these promote a healthy circulatory system to help the body carry oxygen to the brain.
A 2012 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that eating walnuts as part of a Mediterranean diet was associated with better memory and brain function.
The antioxidants in walnuts may help counteract age-related cognitive decline and even reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.