That healthy eating leads to a healthy body and mind is old news, even though science continues to make it sound new. In a study recently published in Neurology scientists followed 27,860 participants, aged 55 and over (all at high-risk for cardiovascular disease) from 40 different countries over a period of 56 months. By the conclusion of the study they found 4,699 cases of cognitive decline in a population commensurate with participants whose food choices ranked in the lowest dietary quintile.
In the summary abstract the authors assert, “Improved diet quality represents an important potential target for reducing the global burden of cognitive decline.” You are what you eat-type mantras still offer sound overall advice, but with these new scientific results we are faced again with the knowledge that we can definitively fight (the natural aging process of) cognitive decline with food.
The National Institute on Aging defines cognition as “the ability to think, learn and remember.” The foundation of this process is functional memory. Which are the best foods to fight memory loss? Take this handy list on your next grocery shopping excursion:
Antioxidants: Neurons are vulnerable to oxidization by free radicals, a process in which these “rogue” molecules attack brain cells and prematurely age them in the same way oxygen turns a skinned fruit brown. Eating foods rich in antioxidants—found in abundance in fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans—neutralizes the free radicals and prevents their damaging effects. Eating these foods in high enough amounts allows your brain to collect antioxidants and use them to protect various parts of your brain, especially including the hippocampus, a major structure in your ability to form and retain memories.
Top sources for antioxidants: 1) blueberries; their blue color, caused by the phytochemical, anthocyanin, offers an enormous source of antioxidants. 2) apples—in the skin—have been shown to be more effective than vitamin C in their ability to protect brain cells from oxidative damage.
Choline: Bottom line, your body needs choline in order to properly function. A micronutrient, choline propels many processes, including supporting nerve signaling and maintaining cell membranes. (It’s prenatal supplementation also been proven to enhance memory performance in rats.) Best source for choline: eggs, the top-of-the-food-chain pick when it comes to foods with high biological value (proteins containing the essential amino acids necessary for human sustenance).
Good fats: Your brain is made up of fat, so it makes perfect sense that ingesting good fat promotes brain health. Omega-3 fats in particular have been proven to boost memory. A study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism3 showed that in lab experiments those subjects fed a diet high in DHA (a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid) had 30% higher levels of DHA in the hippocampus, which allowed memory cells to communicate more effectively. Great sources of omega-3 include wild Alaskan salmon, arctic char, Atlantic mackerel and sardines.
Whole grains: To work optimally your brain needs glucose in a slow, steady stream. Fiber slows the digestion process so that your brain is neither under- nor overwhelmed by the presence of glucose. The gradual release of this brain food especially helps the brain hold information related to tasks requiring memory skills. A top choice here: oatmeal, although many other high-fiber, whole grain options also exist including whole wheat, barley and brown rice.
Vitamin B: B-vitamins 6 and 12 (plus folate) play an important role in reducing levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that, in high and unbalanced levels can impair memory. On the quest to preserve memory function during aging vitamin B-12 could be particularly effective (but only in cases where a deficiency existed). Best sources for the good B’s include dark green leafy vegetables and lentils.
It’s easy to become bored with life if your food focus is purely medicinal. Lest this list look like all force and no fun, Alzheimers.net offers a great visual of memory-boosting superfoods that includes coffee and chocolate, both offering the combined memory benefits of caffeine (it helps your mind commit information) and antioxidants.
Alzheimers.net also provides an overview of foods to take off your grocery list. Reflecting the tendency of certain foods to actually induce memory loss these items include refined white foods (bread, pasta, flour, sugar), processed meats (cold cuts, sausages, certain cheeses) and anything that contains the chemical diacetyl, the buttery flavor found in such items as microwave popcorn (try air-popped instead) and beer.