We know that a wholesome diet is the cornerstone of good health. The USDA recommends a wide variety of foods, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, whole fruits, and protein foods, such as meat. But some foods, in addition to being healthy for your entire body, can give your brain an extra boost, say experts.
Below are seven foods that keep your brain healthy and may even make you smarter.
Salmon. In folklore, fish has always been referred to as “brain food,” and modern science is confirming its truth, especially where salmon is concerned. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which contain the nutrients docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
If your diet is low in omega-3 fatty acids, your brain may age more quickly, according to a study published in the American Academy of Neurology’s journal. However, a diet higher in omega-3s may protect the aging brain. MRI brain scans and tests, such as problem-solving and multi-tasking, found that those with the lowest levels of omega-3s had lower brain volume and scored lower than those with higher levels.
In addition, astaxanthin, a red pigment found in salmon can also switch on a variation of the FOXO3 gene that protects against aging. While all humans have the gene, one in three people carry a version that is associated with longevity.
Animals fed astaxanthin showed an increase of almost 90 percent in the activation of the FOXO3 longevity gene in their heart tissue. “By activating the FOXO3 gene common in all humans, we can make it act like the ‘longevity’ version,” said researcher Dr. Bradley Willcox.
Rosemary. “Rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” said Shakespeare more than 400 years ago, and a British study discovered that merely sniffing a sprig of rosemary boosts learning skills and mood, showing for the first time that blood levels of 1,8-cineole, a chemical found in rosemary, improved cognitive performance.
The study, published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, found that the higher the concentration of 1,8-cineole in the blood, the better the participants scored on tests in both speed and accuracy. Previous studies have shown that rosemary also fights free radical damage and helps protect the aging brain from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Blueberries. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and other berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins which give berries their deep color and slow the aging process — the darker the berry, the higher the amounts of antioxidants. A study from the U.K.’s University of Exeter found that a daily cup of fresh or frozen berries fights the inflammation that leads to aging and also improves brain function in seniors.
“In this study we have shown that with just 12 weeks of consuming 30ml of concentrated blueberry juice every day, brain blood flow, brain activation and some aspects of working memory were improved in this group of healthy older adults,” said Dr. Joanna Bowtell. The concentrated juice was equivalent to one ounce, and was equal to about eight ounces of fresh blueberries.
Wine. A study at the University of Illinois found that men who relax with a drink or two are better at solving brain teasers than those who don’t drink. The study found that not only did the drinkers answer more questions correctly — an average of nine correct answers for the drinking group versus six correct by the non-drinkers — they also were quicker than the sober chaps — an average of 11.5 seconds for the drinkers and 15.2 seconds for the sober gents. The amount of alcohol found to boost creative problem solving was the equivalent of two medium glasses of wine or two pints of beer.
A recent study in the journal Scientific Reports found that drinking low levels of alcohol improves overall brain health by lowering inflammation and helping the brain clear away toxins, including those associated with Alzheimer’s.
Dark chocolate. A 2017 review of studies published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that cocoa beans are a rich source of flavanols, a class of compounds that has neuroprotective effects. Most of the randomized controlled trials found that cocoa flavanols had a beneficial effect on cognitive performance.
For women, eating cocoa after a night of total sleep deprivation actually counteracted the cognitive impairment that such a night brings about. The results are promising for people who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation or work shifts.
In the elderly, factors such as attention, processing speed, working memory, and verbal fluency were greatly improved after eating cocoa, and were most pronounced in those with mild cognitive impairments.
Walnuts. Think it’s a coincidence that the meat of walnuts resembles a brain? Probably not. Walnuts have twice as many brain-healthy antioxidants as almonds, and a recent study conducted at Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center found that eating nuts on a regular basis strengthens the brainwaves associated with learning, memory, healing, cognition, and other essential brain functions.
A study at the University of California found that people who ate the most walnuts performed better on a group of six cognitive tests, and their performance was consistently better regardless of their age or gender.
Coffee. Two studies published in Psychopharmacology found that coffee improved the attention span and cognitive function in older adults. Another study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that seniors who had drunk three to five cups of coffee a day for 21 years lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by 65 percent.
A double-blind study from Johns Hopkins University studied non-coffee drinkers and found that drinking coffee after a learning session improved their long-term memory.
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