Brain health is something most of us seldom consider until we experience difficulties remembering: how to solve a math problem, where we left something, or forget to return a phone call. Yet, the condition of the brain is paramount to our total well-being, as it controls and coordinates the function of every cell, tissue, and organ in the body.
There are protective mind- and memory-boosting steps that we can take daily to enhance brain power. What we do now has long-range, lasting effects on the health and function of our minds. The sooner we start implementing brain-enhancing strategies, the greater the benefit.
A key strategy to help optimize brain health is including nutritious foods in your daily diet. Here’s how to boost your brain function and health with these natural foods and nutrient-rich supplements.
- Coffee is the highest antioxidant source in our diet. It contains more antioxidants per serving than blueberries. Studies found that drinking 3 cups of coffee a day during middle age can decrease the chance of dementia by 65 percent. “Caffeine grows brain cells in the areas of the brain responsible for long-term memory,” state authors Bennett A. Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer, in The Caffeine Advantage. Caffeine increases your short-term memory, concentration, your ability to think clearly and solve problems.
- Drink Green Tea to sharpen and extend the health of your mind. Japanese studies suggest that green tea reduces mental fatigue and psychological stress. A recent study of 1,000 people over the age of 70 found that those consuming the most green tea showed the least signs of cognitive decline. Another study of almost 14,000 people 65 years old and up found that drinking green tea daily could extend one’s ability to independently perform normal daily activities, like dressing and bathing, as they continue to age. Those consuming 5 cups of green tea a day were one-third less likely to experience functional difficulties than those who drank less than one cup.
- Consume Antioxidants. A diet rich in antioxidant foods may help keep your brain sharp. Dark chocolate, coffee, red wine, and green tea are top sources. However, blueberries, black beans, and spinach are also antioxidant-rich foods that contain fewer calories than sweet chocolate or sweetened beverages.
- Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (or EFAs) build the brain’s gray matter. Natural dietary sources include salmon, sardines, and krill oil. One study found that healthy adults who ate the most omega-3 fatty acids had more gray matter in three areas of the brain that regulate mood. Essential fatty acids are important for normal brain development and assist in the function and proper transmission of nerve impulses.
- Eat Egg Yolks to protect the brain against senility. They are a great source of vitamin D (read benefits of vitamin D below) and choline. Studies have found that boosting choline intake in adulthood can improve memory and deter senility. Egg yolks are among the richest natural sources of choline.
- Vitamin D enhances mental focus and brain function. Adequate or high levels of vitamin D3 in the body lower chances of infection and chronic brain inflammation and may reduce the risk of cognitive impairment. Studies are being conducted to determine the link between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease with vitamin D deficiency. People suffering with low levels of vitamin D3 are more prone to experience depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, and suicidal or criminal behavior, all of which are linked to chronic brain inflammation. Foods containing vitamin D include eggs, mushrooms, fish liver oils, salmon, halibut, oatmeal, butter, sweet potatoes, liver, and dairy products. However, food sources may not prove adequate, as vitamin D is produced in the body almost exclusively by exposure to the Sun. Weather permitting, walk outdoors and absorb natural sunshine daily to regain mental clarity. In the winter months, when exposure to natural sunlight isn’t feasible, supplement with vitamin D3. It is important to have blood levels of vitamin D tested before supplementing, to determine adequate dosage. Your health professional may also recommend taking calcium in conjunction with vitamin D, for proper absorption.
- Folic Acid protects the brain from diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. A 3-year Dutch study found that people between the ages of 50 and 70 who took folic acid supplements enhanced their ability to think and remember. Folic acid is found naturally in some foods, including leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans (legumes), and whole grains.
- Vitamin B Complex helps maintain proper brain and nervous system function. As we age, our bodies don’t absorb the B vitamins as well, thus it is important to ensure adequate intake. Aging individuals deficient in B vitamins have been reported to experience symptoms similar to those with Alzheimer’s disease. Sources include meat, seafood, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. A B-complex supplement ensures you receive the amounts you need daily.