There are many factors that may affect your brain health. Optimal brain health and memory can be affected by lack of sleep or a number of other reasons including genetics, level of physical activity, and lifestyle and environmental factors. Studies are now showing how nutrition is playing a key role in brain health. As the year’s progress, cell damage in the brain can occur due to oxygen molecules called free-radicals. For those affected, it can lead to memory loss and slower cognitive processing times leading to a diagnosis of disorders like Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s and Dementia. (Click on image to enlarge)
Much like specific foods support heart health, brain function also relies on optimal blood flow to the brain, therefore, both need the same nutrients. A recent study found that the Mediterranean Diet supports brain health, and a growing body of evidence links foods like those in the Mediterranean Diet with better cognitive function, memory and alertness. University researchers followed diet patterns of 2,200 New Yorkers (average age of 76) for four years. Those who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 40% less likely to develop serious cognitive issues than those whose diets were the least like the Mediterranean diet.
Veggies to the Rescue, Again!
Vegetables high in dietary nitrates, like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, beet, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, horseradish, and arugula are a top pick. These vegetables contain a key nutrient such as sulforaphane to support brain health. Sulforaphane, an organic sulfur compound, is found in cruciferous vegetables as those listed above. Research shows that sulforaphane increases antioxidant enzymes in our blood reducing cell damage and inflammation in our arteries. In addition, sulforaphane has been shown to have antimicrobial properties so it also kills cancer stem cells, which slows tumor growth. It also normalizes DNA methylation, which plays a role in a number of diseases including hypertension, kidney function, gut health, and cancer. Try adding beets and kale to your next smoothie, add in spinach to your morning omelet, or add some cooked cauliflower into your favorite potato dish – aim for 4-5 servings of vegetables per day.
Olive Oil – Historically Dependable
As a trusted staple of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil made this list due to its ability to support a healthy inflammatory response. Studies show how a high olive oil intake (85% of total fat) such as that found in the typical Mediterranean diet was found to protect older, southern Italians from age-related cognitive decline. Researcher Gary Beauchamp and colleagues discovered a component in extra-virgin olive oil that has specific anti-inflammatory properties. Oleocanthal, responsible for the characteristic burn sensation on the mouth, has a unique role in the body. Oleocanthal is natural anti-inflammatory agent, acting similarly to ibuprofen and inflammation inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. So how much do you need? Beauchamp estimates that 50 grams of extra-virgin olive oil (about 2 ounces) daily would probably be equivalent to taking one baby aspirin every day. However, keep in mind this would add about 450 calories!
Choose from berries like blackberries, cherries, strawberries, raspberries and cranberries. These are a rich source of anthocyanins and other flavonoids that help boost memory function. Enjoy a handful of berries for a snack, mixed into yogurt, or your favorite pancake batter. Aim for 4-5 servings of fruit per day. NOTE: Since inflammatory disorders are my specialty and the teach and practice avoid of nightshades and foods containing alkaloids, be sure to AVOID those containing the alkaloid chemical (Solanine) known to induce inflammation, even though they are not an actual nightshade, as in blueberries and huckleberries. Yes, I know they’re touted as high in antioxidants but they are also pro-inflammatory – avoid them. I use and recommend a proprietary blend, PainModulator™ formulated for natural pain relief and as an anti-inflammatory that is jam-packed with tart cherry juice and other antioxidants.
Note: Avocados, bananas, broccoli, sweet & tart cherries, kiwi, oranges, split peas, whitish sweet potatoes, spinach, and dried fruit (without added sulfites) all contain 10-20% of your daily value for potassium. This key electrolyte helps support normal heart function and blood pressure. It also helps your nerves and muscles communicate to further support healthy brain function.
Brain Boosting Omega’s
Essential for good brain health, omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular, helps support brain health. Seafood, algae and fatty fish — including salmon, bluefin tuna, sardines and herring — are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrition experts recommend wild salmon for its environmental and supply reasons and a 4-ounce serving, two to three times a week is the general recommendation. Try salmon tacos with red cabbage slaw, salmon and eggs for breakfast, or enjoy seared tuna on salad greens for dinner. If you are not a fish eater, you can get omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil supplements such as 1440 Omegas, a proprietary blend.
Nuts and seeds are good sources of vitamin E, and studies have shown that higher levels of vitamin E correspond with less cognitive decline as you get older. Add an ounce a day of walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and non-hydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, hazelnut butter, and tahini. Roasting raw nuts in your oven can enhance the flavors before you add them to your foods. Add your favorite nuts or seeds to oatmeal or salad for crunch or mix them into a vegetable stir-fry for extra protein and healthy fats. If you need to avoid sodium for any reason, buy unsalted nuts instead. I use Brazil nuts in my daily smoothie because they contain high amounts of selenium, which is known to be a chelator – attaches to toxic metals and helps the body expel them. I use two Brazil nuts in my 24 oz. green smoothie.
Don’t Forget Your D
Vitamin D may also provide brain-boosting benefits. In a study with 1,009 men and women, ages 45 to 60 years, investigators found that higher vitamin D levels in midlife predicted better cognitive skills 13 years later and higher midlife vitamin D concentrations were linked to better outcomes concerning short-term and working memory. Sources of Vitamin D are sunlight, fatty fish, cod liver oil, certain mushrooms, fortified dairy products, egg yolks, beef liver, and fortified cereals. If you are looking to supplement this essential nutrient consider the one I use and recommend, D3 Optimal Conversion, because it’s broken down to inotropes for better and more effective absorption and utilization.
Many of the foods that are good for your heart are also good for your head, helping to keep your mind sharp as you age. While there's no proof these foods will help you remember all your computer passwords, over time they can help support aging while not looking or feeling old.