Five Foods that Help Improve Brain Function

Five Foods that Help Improve Brain Function

While focusing on improving and maintaining brain function is important throughout life, this importance dramatically increases as we get older. If you have a loved one living with you or in a retirement community, you know first-hand the importance of keeping their brains healthy and active. In addition to frequent mental exercises, there are a number of natural foods that can assist in brain function. Of course, it’s important that both you and your loved one consult your family physician or trusted health specialist before making any dietary changes.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
It’s often said that healthy fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, are essential in preserving brain functionality and health. Cold water fish including mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines are popular choices, but salmon is often touted as the go-to option for a quick, easy and tasty meal option. There are many ways to easily prepare salmon either as a steak, in a bowl, in tacos or over rice.

In addition to fish, nuts, seeds and plant oils are other great sources of Omega-3. Encourage your loved one to include flax seeds in their salads or yogurt, walnuts as a snack, and chia seeds in a smoothie or oatmeal. Amongst its benefits, Omega-3 has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety and mood swings as well as improve heart disease risk factors and lower blood pressure.

Phoebe Lee, a Registered Dietitian at Black Creek Community Health Centre (BCCHC) says, “Researchers have found that people with higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had a lower risk of developing dementia.”

Lee goes on to explain that: “Chronic inflammation has been linked to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and a diet rich in foods containing the different types of Omega-3 fats (ALA, EPA and DHA), may help to reduce inflammation as well as improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the body, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.”

Berries

When it comes to berries, the darker the better. These sweet treats are an excellent source of antioxidants that assist with blood flow to the brain, assisting with memory functionality and learning. Blueberries especially have been shown to boost brain health thanks to anthocyanin, a flavonoid that gives these berries their blue hue. After speaking with a trusted health professional to ensure any risk in diet changes, consider the benefits of drinking one-half to one cup of blueberry juice two or three times per week. It’s important to note, however, that anthocyanin levels in blueberry juice will drop if it sits in the fridge for too long.

Leafy Greens
Leafy green vegetables, as part of a healthy diet, have been shown to slow age-related cognitive decline. These greens, including spinach, kale, collards and lettuce, contain high levels of folate, vitamin K and E, and carotenoids, which are all neuroprotective compounds.

Lee says, “Phytonutrients (carotenoids) and vitamins E and K have antioxidant properties, which help to prevent cell damage and promote healthy aging, while fibre can lower blood sugar and cholesterol, which, if uncontrolled, can lead to nerve damage.”

Leafy greens can also be enjoyed on their own in a salad. Opt for a kale salad with fresh lemon dressing, or mix in apples with some spinach. You may also consider mixing in berries or nuts high in Omega-3 for added benefits. As always, it’s paramount to consult a trusted medical professional before embarking upon a new diet plan for your loved one. Lee also notes that it is important to inform your doctor if you are eating large quantities of leafy greens, as these can interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners.

Whole Grains
Whole grains are packed with a number of health benefits for both body and mind. Not only can they reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, they’re also beneficial in promoting good digestive health. The easiest way to help your loved ones incorporate whole grains into their diets is to replace refined grains with whole-grain alternatives. This can easily be done with pasta, bread and cereals. Quinoa is also a great option in addition to traditional whole grains, and can be made as a side to complement a dish or prepared on its own. A few easy ways to incorporate whole grains into any diet include:
⦁ Prepare cooked porridge out of oatmeal or other grains.
⦁ Snack on air-popped popcorn.
⦁ Swap out white rice with brown rice, or quinoa.
⦁ Use whole-grain flour in baking.

It’s important to note that while there are many health benefits to whole grains, they’re not a healthy or appropriate alternative for some people. If your loved one struggles with Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or irritable bowel syndrome, many whole grains may not be suitable for their diet.

Turmeric
A natural anti-inflammatory, turmeric has been linked to many health benefits including preventing memory loss, especially when linked to high blood sugar levels. With high levels of curcumin, turmeric is a good source of antioxidants that may be useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s Disease and treating depression. While more research needs to be conducted, preliminary treatments have shown some success.

“Some early studies suggest that curcuminoids may help slow cognitive decline and reduce beta-amyloid plaque buildup in the brain, found in people living with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Lee.

The list above provides recommendations, but there are many other foods that are equally beneficial, and may be better-suited to your loved one’s taste and dietary restrictions. “Eating a varied diet rich in Omega 3 fats, colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and spices is not only delicious, but can help to reduce our risk of developing a chronic condition ,” says Lee. “Eating these nutrient-dense foods will keep our brain and body functioning well, so that we can age gracefully into our older years.” With so many great recipes easily accessible online, still ensure to speak with your loved one, your family physician or trusted healthcare professional before making any dietary changes.

Comments

  1. The only one not eating is turmeric! I need to try golden milk.

  2. I add blueberries to my protein smoothies about every other day,

  3. I eat blueberries as often as possible. I like to buy them in summer and freeze for fall and winter.

  4. I try to eat a green salad each day and a bowl of organic berries in the evening.

  5. Love blueberries, especially the wild ones we get here in NW Ontario.

  6. I love blueberries and they are so plump and delicious and economical at this time of year. I eat them almost every day.

  7. I eat wild blueberries most days of the week since they’re even better for the brain than cultivated blueberries. And turmeric seems to really help with pain too.

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