We are all quite familiar with the phrase “you are what you eat”, a statement that has been proven relevant in healthcare. This statement is obvious in regards with the correlation between eating healthy and being fit. However, this statement can also apply to the brain. The brain is the powerhouse of our thoughts and behavior, and it also regulates our body’s physiological functions. With the previous phrase in mind, it is nice to know that we all may have the ability to unleash our full potential by consuming foods that enhance our brain function.
Over the years, research has shown that healthy dietary patterns such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and the Mediterranean diet, have reduced the incidence of chronic diseases and have had numerous health benefits. These diets include a list of healthy options, in which a few have been singled out as “superfoods”: power-packed, nutrient dense foods which provide a reliable source of vitamins and minerals that improve brain health and even aid in dementia prevention in the long-term. There are 5 superfoods that this article will discuss.
Leafy green vegetables are one of the most important superfoods that nourish the brain. In a study conducted on memory and aging amongst the older adult community in the United States, the consumption of spinach, kale, collards, and lettuce, had the strongest association with delayed cognitive decline due to the neuroprotective nutrients in the plants. One cup raw or half a cup cooked leafy vegetables a day can be consumed in wraps, smoothies, sauces, eggs, or sautes. Meanwhile, berries have flavonoid compounds, which give them powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A study that assessed cognitive ability in women showed that long-term intake of berries and flavonoides are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in women. According to this study, women aged 70 years or older who ate one or two half-cup servings of blueberries and strawberries per week were able to maintain brain function at a level two-and-a-half years younger than women who hardly ate any berries. You can incorporate berries into your diet by including them in your salads, blending them into fruit smoothies, or mashing them into a jelly for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The next important superfood is fish. One meal per week of seafood is enough to protect against cognitive decline in semantic memory, which includes the ability to recall names of colors, sounds of letters, capitals of countries, and other basic facts learned throughout a lifetime. Fish are packed with omega-3s, which contain compounds that reduce plaque in the brain. A research study in 2016 conducted on more than 900 men and women in their 70s and 80s found that those who ate more fish have fewer declines in memory than those who rarely ate seafood. Tuna sandwiches, salmon, and fish tacos are delicious ways to incorporate seafood into your diet.
Nuts and seeds can reduce inflammation, decrease insulin resistance, and regulate levels of fat in the blood, which can contribute to improved brain health. According to a research study done by Harvard University, women 70 years or older who regularly consumed nuts scored higher on cognitive tests than women who did not. Nuts can also help prevent complications and deaths associated with cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease. Nuts can easily be added to oatmeals or salads, or can be eaten as snacks. Cocoa is another superfood that has a high source of flavonoid antioxidants and can accumulate in areas of the brain that are involved with learning and memory. Cocoa powder can be sprinkled on yogurt, smoothies, or can be eaten as dark chocolate for dessert (in moderation).
It is best to consume these superfoods, rather than taking supplements, which do not provide the same amount or diversity of nutrients. In fact, these supplements are not very often regulated for effectiveness by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before being granted permission to be sold, and have showed little to no association with improving cognitive function or health. In the end, it is important to consciously include these superfoods in our diet to help preserve brain function. As people age, the brain is exposed to more stress which may damage brain cells. Consuming superfoods can act as a protective barrier and shield our brain cells from much of the damage that can come with aging.