There’s lots of hype surrounding brain exercises or so-called “brain training” and while there’s some anecdotal evidence to suggest that mental exercises can influence an individual’s mental acuity, it would appear that this isn’t the only thing that impacts brain function.
Researchers have discovered that an array of different foods can actually improve brain fitness and function. It makes sense when one considers the fact that a healthy diet can improve physical health; the brain is a physical organ, so it’s rather logical that it would be impacted by diet and other factors that influence the body.
These brain-friendly foods, sometimes called “superfoods,” are said to enhance an array of different aspects of brain health, from improving short-term memory, to increasing alertness, to improving one’s problem-solving abilities, mental acuity and beyond!
Here are 15 power foods that have been found to improve brain health and mental wellness in an array of different ways. Consider adding these superfoods to your diet for optimal brain power!
Superfood #1 — “Oily” Fish
Numerous studies have revealed that “oily” fish like Salmon, Mackerel and Trout, along with fish oil supplements, serve to promote optimal brain health. These fish contain high levels of an Omega-3 fatty acid called DHA.
The study, spearheaded by Professor Welma Stonehouse, at New Zealand’s Massey University, revealed that DHA-rich fish improved both short-term “working” memory and long-term memory in the 176 healthy adults who participated in the study. Findings also reveal that DHA is a key nutrient that has the power to actually prevent the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Notably, there was a male-female differential in the study findings. Males exhibited a 15 percent improvement in “working” memory, whereas women exhibited a 7 percent improvement in episodic memory speed.
Other “oily” fish that are high in DHA include pawns and sardines. High levels of DHA are also found in certain shellfish, such as mussels.
Superfood #2 — Tomatoes
Lycopene-rich tomatoes have been found to help individuals maintain optimal brain health for longer, enabling their bodies to stave off the impact of damage that’s caused by free radicals, which progressively damage the brain over time, resulting in an age-related decline in mental capabilities.
Tomatoes contain an antioxidant known as lycopene – approximately 4 milligrams per 10 grams of tomato paste. Lycopene has been found to combat free radicals, which would otherwise damage brain cells. This damage results in decreased mental function across the board. Preventing this damage results in more robust performance in terms of memory, attention span, problem-solving and logic skills and concentration.
Superfood #3 — Blueberries
Blueberries, which are rich in antioxidants and compounds called polyphenolics, have been found to improve short-term memory and concentration, while also delaying the onset of conditions such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Studies performed at Tufts University’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging have revealed that the antioxidants successfully cleared away toxins that had accumulated in the brain. These toxins inhibit brain functions, especially short-term memory, attention-span and concentration.
Notably, the study revealed that blueberries also serve to combat the development of conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. These ailments are associated with high levels of toxins.
“Berries seem to promote autophagy, the brain’s natural housekeeping mechanism, thereby reducing the toxic accumulation,” indicated researcher Dr. Shibu Poulose.
Superfood #4 — Strawberries
Like blueberries, strawberries contain polyphenolics and flavinoids, which have been found to cleanse the brain, eliminating the toxins that serve to inhibit an array of functions, including memory.
According to a study published in the Annals of Neurology, researchers discovered that women who ate strawberries (and blueberries) saw a delay in the on-set of age-related mental decline. The study was performed over the course of 36 years. A total of 16,000 women took part in the study and it was discovered that the women who ate lots of strawberries saw a 2.5 year delay in the on-set of memory problems and the development of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia.
Superfood #5 — Sage
Sage is commonly used to add flavor to a wide range of different culinary dishes, but it also contains powerful antioxidants and compounds that are similar to those that are found in Alzheimer’s medications.
The results of a study published in the June 2003 edition of Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior revealed that just 50 microls of sage had the power to dramatically improve short-term memory and recall. The study included 45 subjects, who were given 50 to 150 microls of sage. They were then asked to perform cognitive tests for several hours after they received the sage (or a placebo.)
Sage has also been found to improve the “interconnectivity” among the different regions of the brain, which serves to improve comprehension speed, concentration and problem-solving speed.
Improving memory isn’t the only benefit that sage offers; it also has anti-inflammatory properties and it’s high in Vitamin K (which is also known as a brain-friendly vitamin!)
Superfood #6 — Broccoli
Broccoli is high in Vitamin K, which has been found to enhance brain function. Vitamin K has been found to reduce your chances of developing age-related dementia. The nutrient also helps your bones to retain calcium, while inhibiting the development of macular degeneration and artery “hardening” that’s associated with cardiovascular diseases.
In addition, broccoli has also been found to promote brain healing following trauma or illness. This is according to study results which were published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Broccoli contains sulforaphane, which has been found to fortify and repair the blood-brain barrier following damage from injury or illness. The blood-brain barrier is a membrane that serves as a filter of sorts, protecting the brain from potentially harmful chemicals that are present in the blood.
The sulforaphane found in broccoli was found to promote the release of “cytoprotective” proteins that work to repair the damage.
Broccoli has also been found to reduce your chances of developing certain forms of cancer, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer.
Superfood #7 – Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, which serves to boost your memory, problem-solving skills, and mental speed. They also contain a substance called niacin, which serves to enhance GABA activity in the brain (while also reducing LDL cholesterol levels); this results in decreased anxiety. Anxiety can have a dramatic impact on an individual’s ability to sleep and concentrate, so this serves to improve mental function as well.
They also contain lots of protein, antioxidants and essential minerals like copper, iron, magnesium and selenium.
Superfood #8 – Whole Grains
Whole grains such as wheat and oats contain choline, which enhances the body’s ability to produce acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that improves memory. So you’ll enjoy a boost to your short-term working memory and your long-term memory when you eat plenty of whole grains.
In addition, whole grains contain complex carbohydrates which are a potent energy source for the brain. A diet that’s rich in carbs will result in lots of energy throughout the day, without the extreme highs and lulls that are associated with sugars and simple carbohydrates. So when you eat plenty of whole grains, you’ll enjoy improved concentration, greater comprehension speed and optimal brain performance across the board!
Superfood #9 – Walnuts
Walnuts are another source of polyunsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly alpha linolenic acid or “ALA.” Multiple studies have found that just a handful of walnuts per day will improve memory function, cognitive abilities and concentration.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition revealed that subjects who ate just half a cup of walnuts per day for a total of 8 weeks saw an 11 percent increase in “inferential reasoning skills.” Inferential reasoning entails using prior experiences to deduce information.
Walnuts also contain Vitamin E, which according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, serves to prevent mental decline, particularly in older individuals. Walnuts have also been found to reduce an individual’s chances of developing age-related mental ailments like Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia.
Superfood #10 – Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant that’s most often found in coffee. As a stimulant, caffeine boosts your ability to concentrate and focus.
What’s more, coffee also contains antioxidants, which promote all-around brain health. Recent research also suggests that coffee can lessen one’s chances of developing depression, which can impact a wide array of different brain functions.
“Our results support a possible protective effect of caffeine, mainly from coffee consumption, on risk of depression,” according to the Harvard University study findings, which were published in the September 2011 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine. The study involved more than 50,000 individuals. They saw a 15 percent reduction in their risk of developing depression after drinking 2-3 cups of coffee per day. Individuals who drank 4 cups per day saw a 20% reduction.
Superfood #11 – Spinach
Spinach is high in lutein, an antioxidant that cleanses toxins from the brain and prevents age-related mental decline. That’s according to a study performed at Tufts University’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
Study participants who ate more spinach (compared to other study participants who ate lesser amounts) exhibited consistently stronger performances on tests that were designed to evaluate memory and learning ability.
Superfood #12 – Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains caffeine, so you’ll enjoy benefits that are similar to what you would see as a result of drinking coffee – improved mental acuity, better attention-span and improved concentration.
In addition, dark chocolate also contains antioxidants called flavinoids. Flavinoids are particularly effective at increasing blood flow, which is a key element when it comes to brain power. The better the blood flow to the brain, the more oxygen and nutrients it receives! This results in improved brain function across the board.
Chocolate has also been found to lower blood pressure and promote healthier cholesterol levels!
Superfood #13 – Water
Yes, drinking water can improve brain function!
Dehydration has a significant impact on brain function, including memory, reasoning ability, attention span, decision-making abilities and concentration. The brain can actually shrink when you’re dehydrated. Fluids also serve to flush toxins from the body; when these toxins remain in the blood stream and reach high levels, they can seriously inhibit one’s ability to think and concentrate. (It’s actually these toxins that cause your body to shut down and die in a situation involving extreme dehydration.)
Keep your brain well-hydrated so it will work at an optimal level.
Superfood #14 – Avocado
Avocado is a popular superfood that’s high in Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin K (among more than 20 other nutrients!), which promote better brain function, while lessening the chances that you’ll develop age-related brain health problems such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia.
Avocado also contains Vitamin E, which has the power to actually reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease by improving memory, attention span and cognitive abilities. Avocado also contains folate, which prevents nerve fibers from becoming “tangled” — a condition that has also been associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Avocado brings an array of other health benefits, including heart health, eye health, and it lessens your chances of developing diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Superfood #15 – Beets
Beets (and beet juice) contain lots of nitrates, which serve to increase blood flow to the brain. More blood flow means more brain power, including better memory, sharper reasoning skills, improved attention span and better concentration.
The results of the study, performed at Wake Forest University, were published in the Nitric Oxide Society’s journal.
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