You know that eating well can help keep your weight in check. But that’s not the only reason you should watch what you put in your mouth: A healthy diet can boost your brainpower, too.
“I always advise people to eat around the color wheel, which supports not only body health, but mind health, as well,” says neurologist Tanzila Shams, MD, of The Medical Center of Plano in Texas. “There's no one food that is the answer, but you have to educate yourself, read labels and pick fresh fruits. Fresh fruits are always going to support your mind because they support your body and it all works in unison.”
Learn which foods to add to your plate for better brain health.
Blueberries don’t just make for a good ingredient in muffins – recent research also shows that they may help protect against age-related brain changes, and even possibly Alzheimer’s disease. “Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, which support brain health and one’s overall cognitive abilities,” says Dr. Shams. “Antioxidants prevent aging by destroying the free radicals that cause most of the damage in the aging process; free radical buildup causes aging at the cellular level in all your organs including your brain cells.”
Those with a sweet tooth rejoice: Several studies suggest that cocoa flavanols found in dark chocolate helped improve thinking skills in both healthy older adults and older adults with mild cognitive impairment. In addition, flavanols have been shown to reduce blood pressure and prevent blood clots. While scientists are still trying to understand how flavanols affect the human brain, it certainly won’t hurt to eat some every now and again. Just makes sure that you don’t eat too much store-bought dark chocolates, as this can lead to weight gain. Cocoa flavanol in its minimally processed form, like cocoa powder, may be your best bet.
These popular snacks are loaded with proteins, vitamins and minerals – and some have heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s (DHA mainly) are part of the membrane of neurons and are involved in signaling. They are also necessary for neuron growth and plasticity, and may even fight age-related changes. The body doesn’t produce omega-3s on its own -- you can only get them through diet. Walnuts are a great source of omega-3s but watch your portion size, as nuts are high in calories.
“One trick is to always keep your nuts in the freezer so those omega-3 fatty acids don't spoil and go rancid in the cupboard,” Shams advises.
While green tea isn’t technically a food, you’ll want to start sipping away once you hear about its brain-boosting benefits. A study published in 2014 found that, in healthy men, green tea extracts may improve connectivity in the brain, improving cognitive performance, particularly working memory tasks. Plus, green tea’s rich supply of flavonoids and antioxidants are great for your overall health, too and may even help keep calcium deposits away from your ticker, improving heart health.
Foods to Avoid
“The traditional things that are bad for your body may also be bad for your brain,” says Shams. The worst foods for your mind are the ones you always hear of, like those high in trans fats and saturated fats. Stay away from, or limit, junk food (packaged chips, doughnuts, pizza, etc) to keep your mind sharp. Foods that have a high glycemic index cause insulin levels in your blood to spike, which in the short term causes “brain fog” (also known as “food coma”). Worse, over time, these repetitive spikes can lead to diabetes, which damages tiny blood vessels in the brain and can bring on dementia.