Your memory-boosting shopping basket
Whether it’s boosting your vitamin E levels or topping up your omega-3 fatty acid intake, the nutrients in these foods could help to keep your brain healthy
Tucking into a few portions of oily fish – think salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna or sardines – has been found to help boost levels of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, ones called DHA and EPA. These are essential for maintaining nerve cells in the hippocampus – the brain’s key memory centre.
Did you know? When researchers measured the brain size in more than 1000 women, as part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study in the US, they found that those who ate plenty of omega-3 fatty acids had larger brains than those who didn’t. A shrinking brain is linked to increased risk of dementia.
Blueberries & strawberries
They make a delicious snack, especially during summer, but blueberries and strawberries could also be a useful brain boosters. A 2012 study of 16,000 women found women who ate lots of berries such as strawberries and blueberries had better memory abilities.
Blueberries and strawberries are rich in antioxidant compounds called anthocyanidins. Anthocyanidins have the ability to move from the blood into the brain, and studies have shown that these compounds concentrate in brain centres responsible for memory and learning.
Dark green leafy vegetables
Kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and collard greens are all green leafy vegetables that are good for boosting brain health and so helping to slow memory loss.
Dark green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin which may help protect neurons or nerve cells in the brain. Plus, many green leafy vegetables are also high in folate which food scientists believe helps to lower levels of homocysteine, an amino-acid which high levels have been linked to the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. Seems Popeye knew what he was talking about after all…
Pronounced ‘ah-sah-ee’, these berries, which originate from South America, are usually eaten as a juice or in a supplement. They’re rich in antioxidants (much like strawberries and blueberries) which can help to protect brain cells against damage and slow down age-related cognitive decline.
A diet that’s rich in wholegrain carbohydrates is good for boosting brain power because they release the sugar in them slowly which ensures you maintain a gradual source of energy, which has been found to help the brain retain information for tasks that require memory skills. Go for brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta, and oats.
The yellow spice, commonly found in curries, contains an ingredient called curcumin, which can help to boost memory and cognition. A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found working memory, energy levels, calmness and contentedness were increased in people who increased their turmeric intake. Given that you’d probably got bored if you ate curry everyday (as well as it being just a little on the uncomfortable side!), you can also take turmeric supplements.
People have been extolling the virtues of a Mediterranean diet, especially in terms of boosting brain health, for a long time, and this is often because of the large amounts of olive oil that’s used during cooking and eating.
Did you know? Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), which have been found to help improve circulation in the brain and prevent unwanted inflammation in nerve cells. A study by Montpellier University in France found it boosted the brain health of nearly 7000 people aged 65 and over.
Like leafy green vegetables and olive oil, avocado is rich in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. This means that it’s another great brain boosting food.
Some people are put off the avocado fruit (and yes, it is a fruit, not a vegetable!) because it is high in fat. But it’s important to remember that the fats in it are of the healthy, monounsaturated variety. In fact, these MUFAs are also instrumental in boosting heart health and lowering blood pressure, both issues that have been linked to the development of dementia, particularly vascular dementia.
Include half a cup of dry-roasted sunflower seeds and you’ll get approximately 30 per cent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin E, the vitamin which has been linked to brain health. Sprinkle them on top of your salad or add ground up seeds to muesli or porridge. And here’s an added bonus – vitamin E is also great for boosting skin health and keeping it looking plump and young.
Like sunflower seeds, peanut butter (and of course peanuts) are rich in vitamin E, so it’s a good food to include. Watch out for the varieties that have lots of added sugar in them as that will reduce the health benefits.
DISCLAIMER: These food suggestions have come from detailed research of different studies. However, it’s important to remember that some of these studies may have had limited participants or only been carried out on animals, rather than humans.