While it’s common to think that brain health is simply the product of good genes, the reality is quite different. A growing body of research shows that we really are what we eat, and that couldn’t be truer than with maintaining a healthy brain. There are many excellent brain-boosting superfoods, but here are some of my picks for the top ten:
If you’ve been following news reports you’ve probably already heard about the compound resveratrol found in purple grapes. A large volume of studies link resveratrol with protecting brain cells against damage from beta-amyloid plaques linked with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It appears to work by mopping up free radicals before they can cause damage to the brain and by protecting brain cells against plaque build up. While the media loves to recommend red wine to obtain resveratrol, the reality is that the alcohol in red wine counteracts many of the benefits.
While grapes get all the attention when it comes to brain health, it’s time for blueberries to share in the acclaim. These delicious berries are brain-healing powerhouses that work to protect our brain from disease in several different ways. They contain a group of plant nutrients called flavonoids that protect both the watery and fatty parts of the brain against free radical damage; few foods can make that claim.
Research conducted by a medical team at a graduate school at Kanazawa University, Japan, demonstrated that curcumin, found in turmeric – a common curry ingredient — prevents the development of a substance called beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. The easiest way to enjoy the benefits of curcumin is by adding turmeric to your favorite curry dish.
For better brain health, it’s time to go nuts: with walnuts, that is. Walnuts offer numerous brain health benefits. To start, they are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids that help protect the fatty portion of the brain and quell brain inflammation, too. Research in The Journal of Nutrition found that walnuts also contain natural compounds that act as antioxidants to destroy free radicals that could otherwise have a damaging effect on the brain. These same compounds reduce brain inflammation, improve signals between brain cells and increase the generation of brain and nerve cells. Choose raw, unsalted walnuts found in the refrigerator section of the health food store.
5. Fatty Fish
Our brains are about 60 percent fat and need healthy fats to replenish these fatty parts. While walnuts are an excellent source of fats needed by the brain, Iâ€™d be remiss if I didn’t mention fatty fish. Fish that contains high amounts of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids include mackerel, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, lake trout and herring. But be aware, some of these fish have become contaminated with mercury. Avoid fish that consistently shows up high on the mercury radar, including predatory fish like swordfish and shark, as well as sea bass, northern pike, tuna, walleye and largemouth bass, as well as farm-raised salmon.
When it comes to brain health, an apple a day may keep the doctor away. Research published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias found that people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s who drank two four-ounce cups of apple juice daily had a 27 percent reduction in agitation, anxiety and delusion. Add an apple to your lunch, as a snack on a break from work or as an evening treat to quell a sweet tooth.
One of my favorite fruits, pomegranates, offer more than just sensational taste — they are nutritional and healing powerhouses, particularly when it comes to brain health. Not only are they high in antioxidants that help protect the brain against stroke, research published in the journal Atherosclerosis shows that pomegranates destroy free radicals in the vascular system, helping to ensure healthy blood flow to the brain. Eat them fresh on their own or drink unsweetened bottled pomegranate juice.
Perhaps the Queen of England’s afternoon tea break has helped to keep her mind sharp as she has aged? That’s because black, green and white tea all have significant amounts of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds called catechins, which boost brain health. Scientists found that people who drank two or more cups of tea each day were less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
If you’re only enjoying tomatoes as part of an occasional pasta dinner, you might want to expand your tomato repertoire. That’s because lycopene found in tomatoes has also been found to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Tomatoes have been shown to prevent clumping in the blood (known as platelet aggregation), which is a risk factor for stroke.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the president of PureFood BC, an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Boost Your Brain Power in 60 Seconds: The 4-Week Plan for a Sharper Mind, Better Memory, and Healthier Brain.
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