Fish has long been touted as brain food, and not without good reason. Studies have shown that women who eat fatty fish such as salmon during the third trimester of their pregnancy have babies who tend to have stronger performances in cognitive tasks. It seems that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is needed during this time of development in order to build neurons and their connections. Low DHA levels have previously been linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and memory loss later on life.
These essential fatty acids are not produced by the human body and so must be obtained solely through what we eat, and the most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish.
A 2006 Tufts University study found that people who ate fish three times a week not only had the highest levels of DHA in their blood but also cut their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 39%.
Apart from salmon, other examples of oily fish include trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers.
So, eat fish at least twice a week but limit your consumption of albacore tuna to no more than 200 grams a week so as to minimize your exposure to mercury.
The brain cannot work without energy. Its ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate and steady supply of energy in the form of glucose in our blood flowing to the brain. Instead of eating a bunch of sugars and quick-release food, make sure you start choosing whole grains with a low-GI (glycemic index). Low GI foods release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly and steadily, thus keeping you mentally alert throughout the day.
When it comes to cereals, make sure you eat 'brown' or bran cereals, oatmeal or whole-wheat bagels, wheat bran, granary bread and brown pasta.
Greens such as broccoli, sprouts and spinach are of vital importance. Even early on in life, by 5 or 6 months, babies have used up most of the iron reserves they’re born with and will need to get iron from food or supplements to support brain development.
Studies show that 10% of women are anemic, and the latest research demonstrates that being even mildly iron-deficient strongly affects learning, memory, and attention. Luckily, restoring iron levels to normal also restores cognitive function. Also, apart from dark leafy greens, humans can get iron from beans, meat or soy.
Additionally, broccoli is an amazing source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.
Make sure to include broccoli, sprouts, and spinach in your diet. A 25-year Harvard Medical School study of more than 13,000 women showed that participants who ate cruciferous and leafy greens retained their memory best. The more you eat of these vegetables, the better!
An American Journal of Epidemiology published study concluded that a strong, regular intake of vitamin E may help in the prevention of cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E as are the leafy green vegetables mentioned above, asparagus, olives, seeds, eggs, brown rice and whole grains, also mentioned above.
Chilli contains the fiery-tasting chemical capsaicin; in fact, it is the capsaicin that gives chilli its heat. Capsaicin stimulates circulation, aids digestion, opens nasal passages and best of all sends a feeling of euphoria straight to your brain. Of course, that depends on whether you enjoy chilli or not!
Curry, on the other hand, blocks the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, fights inflammation and lowers artery-clogging cholesterol which can reduce blood flow to your brain.
One of the principal spices in curry powder is Turmeric, a cousin of ginger. Turmeric is especially rich in curcumin, a compound believed by experts at the University of California Los Angeles Alzheimer's Disease Research Center to inhibit Alzheimer's disease in multiple ways.
Much like the low GI foods described above, legumes provide glucose to fuel the brain. The fibre they contain slows down the absorption of glucose, therefore helping to maintain stable levels of energy. This supports alertness and aid concentration overtime.
The staple of any self-respecting Mediterranean diet, extra virgin olive oil is rich in oleocanthal, a compound that disables dangerous ADDLs.
ADDLs (amyloid B-derived diffusible ligands) are Alzheimer's-inducing proteins and are toxic to the brain. In the initial stages of Alzheimer's, ADDLs attach themselves to brain cells rendering them unable to communicate with each other, eventually leading to memory loss. According to research conducted at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, extra virgin olive oil may be a powerful weapon against ADDLs.
The black gold on which the planet runs on every morning has had a bad reputation, however, a Finnish study of 1,400 longtime coffee drinkers revealed that people who consumed between three to five cups of coffee a day in their 40s and 50s reduced their odds of developing Alzheimer's disease by 65% when compared with those who drank fewer than two cups a day.
It is the Finnish researchers’ belief that the caffeine in coffee and the ample antioxidants found within are the keys to its effects.
One a day keeps the doctor away, but apples do far more and keep free radicals at bay. Apples are a source of quercetin, an antioxidant plant chemical that keeps your mental juices flowing by protecting your brain cells. Researchers at Cornell University discovered that quercetin defends brain cells from free radical attacks which aim to damage the outer lining of delicate neurons and eventually lead to cognitive decline.
Pro tip - Eat your apples with their skins on since that's where most of their quercetin is found.
Chocolate is not just good for the soul; it can also keep your mind sharp. A 2009 Journal of Nutrition study found that eating even just one-third of an ounce of chocolate a day (about two Hershey's kisses) helps protect against age-related memory loss. Researchers credit polyphenols in cocoa with increasing blood flow to the brain.
So there you go, that’s the BrainGymmer list of foods to eat to keep your brain healthy! Luckily scientific advances have demonstrated that it’s not just ‘boring’ foods which help keep the brain alive and active, but even the stuff we love, so eat up and eat healthy!