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Published on: January 15, 2013
by Cynthia R. Green for NBC News:
1. Fatty fish
Seafood like salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and sardines are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, powerful and versatile nutrients that are essential for a healthy mind. About 40% of the fatty acids in brain cell membranes are DHA, one of the main omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. Experts believe it’s probably necessary for transmitting signals between brain cells.
In a 2006 study, researchers at Tufts University found that people who ate fish 3 times a week and had the highest levels of DHA in their blood slashed their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 39%.
Eat it: At least twice a week (limit albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces a week to minimize mercury exposure).
2. Leafy green and cruciferous veggies
Pile salads, stir-fries, and side dishes with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, and brussels sprouts. They’re filled with antioxidants like vitamin C and plant compounds called carotenoids, which are particularly powerful brain protectors.
Antioxidants prevent damage from free radicals, which are waste products your body makes when cells use fuel to create energy. Your brain is especially vulnerable to damage from free radicals because it uses a lot of fuel (it’s only about 3% of your body weight but uses up to 17% of your energy). Since your mind makes a lot of these toxic by-products, ample antioxidants help to disarm and defuse them.
While all antioxidants (from a variety of plants) are good for your brain, these cruciferous veggies are especially effective. A Harvard Medical School study of more than 13,000 women found that those who ate the most lowered their brain age by 1 to 2 years.
Eat it: Daily, as part of a well-rounded mix of other colorful veggies.
3. Avocado, oils, nuts, and seeds
They all contain another important antioxidant: vitamin E. In one study, researchers found that people who consumed moderate amounts vitamin E — from food, not supplements — lowered their risk of AD by 67%.
Eat it: Frequently; shoot for 15 mg of E a day, the equivalent of 2 ounces of almonds.
Sweeten your brain-boosting diet with the dark kind (at least 70% cocoa); it contains flavonoids, another class of antioxidants that some research links to brain health. Other flavonoid-rich foods include apples, red and purple grapes, red wine, onions, tea, and beer.
Eat it: Frequently, as part of a healthy total calorie intake. Up to half an ounce daily has also been shown to lower blood pressure.
Go for Thai or Indian takeout; these cuisines often use the potent spice known to fight inflammation. Animal studies have shown that curry’s active ingredient, curcumin, actually clears away Alzheimer’s-causing proteins in the brain called amyloid plaques (though more research is needed in humans).
Eat it: As an ingredient in pasta sauces, salad dressings, or meat marinades.
6. Whole grains
Fiber-rich oatmeal, oat bran, brown rice, and so on help stabilize blood glucose (sugar) levels, compared with refined carbs like white bread and sugary foods. Your body digests these simple sugars quickly, so you have a sudden energy spike — and subsequent plummet.
Since glucose is the brain’s main source of fuel, it’s important to keep levels steady; during a crash, you’ll feel tired and crabby and have trouble concentrating.
Eat them: Daily, aiming for 25 grams of fiber; fruits, vegetables, and beans are other good sources.
Every cell in your body needs water to thrive, and your brain cells are no exception; in fact, about three-quarters of your brain is water. A small Ohio University study found that people whose bodies were well hydrated scored significantly better on tests of brainpower, compared with those who weren’t drinking enough.
Drink it: Throughout the day; aim to sip 6 to 8 glasses total.
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