Before you indulge in that high-calorie, fast food meal, here’s some food for thought: Did you know that the food you eat can negatively impact your memory and increase your likelihood of developing dementia later in life?
The phrase “you are what you eat” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to your brain.
Take a T-bone steak, for example, which is loaded with saturated fat. This can raise your blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. What does this mean?
According to research at Harvard Medical School, LDL cholesterol is not only bad for your heart and damaging to your arteries, but it can also negatively affect your brain. Foods high in cholesterol can accelerate the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in your brain, which can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Maintaining a healthy diet of foods rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients can help protect your brain from damage and support memory and development.
A healthy diet is not only important for adults and the elderly, it’s also incredibly important for the growth and development of children.
Below, we’ve outlined 11 foods to help boost your memory and keep your brain in peak working condition.
When we talk about avoiding fatty foods, we mean saturated fat and not a good kind of fat. At the top of the list of brain foods are fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and trout. These types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which your brain uses to build brain and nerve cells. This type of fat is essential for memory and learning, and it can also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Look for sustainably-sourced and clean fish. Check out this Clean Eating Buyers Guide to Seafood for more information.
Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy diet and properly reading food labels? Check out our blog Looking Beyond the Label: 8 Healthy Food Myths.
Turmeric, the main ingredient in curry powder, serves many benefits. Research shows that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can cross the blood-brain barrier and benefit your brain cells. What does this mean? Essentially, curcumin has been linked to:
Deeply-colored berries like blueberries deliver anthocyanins, which is a group of plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. These effects can act against inflammation and oxidative stress, conditions that often contribute to neurodegenerative diseases and brain aging. Studies have also shown that blueberries can even prevent memory loss.
Broccoli is another brain food packed with antioxidants and other powerful plant compounds. It also delivers more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K, which is known to improve memory.
Even when you are upholding a healthy diet, it’s important to treat yourself from time to time. Treat yourself to some dark chocolate, another food that is packed with brain-boosting compounds like caffeine, antioxidants, and flavonoids. Flavonoids gather in the areas of the brain that deal with memory and learning. One study pinpointed that people who ate dark chocolate more frequently than those who did not, performed better in mental tasks involving memory.
Another brain food that contains powerful antioxidants is pumpkin seeds. These seeds are also a great source of iron, zinc, magnesium, and copper, which are each important for brain health.
According to several studies, foods high in vitamin C are a key factor in how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Did you know that by eating one medium orange, you can get all the vitamin C you need in a day?
Foods rich in vitamin C can also act as a powerful antioxidant that fights off the free radicals that damage brain cells. Other brain superfoods rich in vitamin C include:
Caffeine lovers can rejoice because coffee (within moderation) can actually be good for your brain. There are two main components in coffee: caffeine and antioxidants, both of which have positive effects on your brain.
These positive effects include:
However, the effects of coffee are only positive when drank in moderation over the long term. Excessive amounts of caffeine can negatively affect your health, such as dehydration, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and headaches. It is recommended to limit your intake of caffeine to 37.5 to 450 mg per day.
Nuts are another food that can improve your brain and heart health, cognition, and even prevent neurodegenerative diseases. Walnuts in particular are beneficial for your brain health as they contain omega-3 fatty acids.
Nuts contain several key nutrients, such as antioxidants, healthy fats, and vitamin E, which are all linked to brain-health benefits. Vitamin E is known ot shield your cell membrane from free radicals that can cause damage, which helps slow mental decline.
One study even found that women who ate nuts regularly over several years had a sharper memory compared to those who did not eat nuts.
Interested in some healthy recipes that contain nuts? Check out this article by Eating Well for some great meal and snack ideas!
You have likely heard the say “an apple a day will keep the doctor away,” but did you know an egg a day can keep mental decline at bay? Eggs offer an excellent source of several key nutrients linked to brain health, including folate, choline, and vitamins B6 and B12.
Choline is a micronutrient that your body utilizes to create a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine that helps regulate your memory and mood. Studies have found that increased intakes of choline were linked to better mental function and improved memory. Egg yolks are among the most concentrated sources of choline (with 112 mg), making it an easy way to get more of this nutrient into your daily diet. It’s recommended for women to consume 425 mg of choline per day and for men to consume 550 mg.
Additionally, the B vitamins in eggs also have several beneficial effects on your brain health. For example, B vitamins can help slow mental decline in the elderly and even mitigate depression.
Similar to the effects of coffee, green tea can also boost your brain function. Studies have found that green tea can improve performance, productivity, memory, focus, and alertness.
Green tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that increases GABA activity, a neurotransmitter that helps you relax without making you tired and reduces anxiety.
Additionally, green tea contains antioxidants and polyphenols that can reduce the risk of diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Are you interested in learning how to keep your heart healthy in addition to your brain? Check out our blog How to Keep Your Heart Healthy and Follow a Healthy Lifestyle.
A healthy diet is not the only way to help prevent memory loss. Follow these recommendations to keep your brain sharp:
Your brain is the control center of your body, allowing you to move, feel, and think. As such, it’s critical to “exercise your brain” just as you would exercise your body.
Brain games can be hugely beneficial in training your brain’s cognitive function to improve concentration, memory, and lower your risk for developing neurological diseases.
Make the most of your screen time by downloading some of these brain-boosting apps:
Whether you are working from home while homeschooling your kids or just in need of some fresh ideas, here are a few productive games to stimulate your kids’ minds.
Offer blocks of different colors and sizes to your toddler and let their imagination run wild!
Most suitable for babies and young toddlers, sensory bins are an excellent way to let your child explore different shapes, textures, and objects. Grab plastic bins or large bowls and fill them with water and various toys or other age-safe items like rice, cotton balls, loofahs, uncooked pasta noodles, and more. Get creative with the objects and let your child scoop and move items around freely.
Nesting and Stacking Toys
Nesting toys are an easy way to help develop your little one’s fine motor skills, including their balance, coordination, pre-math skills, and visual perception. For younger babies, start with stacking rings then upgrade to stacking toys.
“I Spy…” or “Simon Says” Games
While simple, these games are an excellent way to boost brain development in your child by showing them how to follow instructions and pay attention to detail. These games are also great for helping your child develop language and increase their spatial awareness.
A scavenger hunt is similar to a game of “I Spy…” but is more hands-on and can easily entertain your kids for hours. Scavenger hunts can also be customized for your child’s age. Give your kids a little outdoor time and have them find the following items:
Puzzles are another easily customizable activity for your child’s age and they are fun for the whole family. Puzzles can help develop your child’s spatial perception, problem-solving, coordination, cognitive skills, and fine motor skills.
For more kid-friendly brain games, download our free Activity Book!
From crossword puzzles to arts and crafts, there is no shortage of options for adult brain games to prevent Alzheimer’s, keep your mind sharp, and potentially improve your brain function over time. Here are a few adult brain games you can try at home:
Sudoku is a popular number placement game that relies on your short-term memory and concentration. To play, you have to follow trails of sequences and look ahead to plan your next move. This game can be played on an app, online, or on paper. Most newspapers include a daily Sudoku puzzle; do not forget to use a pencil as you will likely need to restart and retrace your steps when you are just starting out!
Crossword puzzles are a classic brain gain that requires memory, trivia skills, and verbal knowledge. Just like Sudoku, most newspapers include a daily puzzle you can complete, or you can find these puzzles easily online or via apps. The AARP website, for example, offers a daily crossword that is free to all, whether or not you are an AARP member.
Crochet or Knitting
Picking up a new hobby or skill, such as crocheting or knitting, can also benefit your brain health and keep your mind sharp. While not a technical “brain game,” hobbies like these are a fun activity that can reduce anxiety, improve your hand-eye coordination, and enhance your mood with the release of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin. Get started on this hobby by checking out this Knitting for Beginner’s article.
Braingle is a free website that provides more than 15,000 puzzles, brain games, and other brain teasers. You can even take it a step further and challenge yourself by creating your own puzzle. Other adult brain games on the site include optical illusions, trivia quizzes, puzzles, ciphers and codes, and more.
There are many foods and activities that will help keep your brain healthy, but it’s up to you to stay on top of it. By strategically incorporating healthy brain food into your diet and spending some of your free time challenging your mind, you can improve your memory and lower your risk of mental decline later in life.