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Eat These Brain Foods for a Healthy Mind

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All of us are getting older each day, and our brains are aging right along with us. While there’s no magic pill to stop the clock and keep your brain young, choosing the right foods can help keep your brain healthy and may even improve brain function.

The Mayo Clinic reports that eating some foods and avoiding others can slow brain aging by as much as 7.5 years. Omega-3 fatty acids help build and repair brain cells, while antioxidants reduce cellular inflammation. These nutrients are found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. The same nutrients that slow aging have been shown to boost memory and other brain functions.

The brain consumes about 20 percent of the calories you burn while in a resting state, even though it only represents about 2 percent of your total body weight. It’s important to provide energy to the brain with protein-rich foods. Look for healthy sources of protein to feed your brain, including fish and plant sources. Healthy fats like olive oil are also encouraged. 

Many foods that have been identified as brain foods are also good for the blood vessels and heart. Add these foods to your diet for maximum brain benefits:

Fatty Fish
Studies have found that consuming fatty fish increases blood flow to the brain. Fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, unsaturated fats that reduce deposits of beta-amyloid, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Salmon, cod, pollack and canned light tuna have the lowest mercury levels and can be safely consumed at least twice per week for maximum benefit. Other foods with omega-3 include walnuts, avocados, soybeans and flaxseeds.

Leafy Greens
A well-balanced diet always includes vegetables, but the leafy green varieties such as broccoli, spinach and kale feed the brain with vitamin C, vitamin K and healthy nutrients including beta carotene, folate and lutein. Rich in antioxidants, leafy greens help the brain fight age-related memory loss. Folate, also known as vitamin B9, promotes the creation of healthy red blood cells and reduces inflammation in the brain.

Berries
The bright colors seen in berries come from flavanols, natural compounds with antioxidant properties. Plant-based antioxidants help the body maintain healthy cells, fighting the damage caused by free radicals. A Harvard study found that women who consumed strawberries and blueberries two or more times per week slowed memory decline.

Avocados
This tasty fruit contains monounsaturated fats that can improve memory and fight cognitive decline by improving blood cholesterol levels and reducing high blood pressure. Avocados are a healthy replacement for foods with saturated fats.

Dark Chocolate
Who would have thought that this rich indulgence is another good source for antioxidants? Studies have found that besides reducing inflammation and the risk of heart disease, dark chocolate can help improve brain function. Like berries, cocoa contains flavanols. Although cocoa is found in both dark and milk chocolate, dark chocolate contains two to three times more. For the biggest health benefit, look for dark chocolate products that are low in sugar and fat. 

Caffeine
One of the reasons tea and coffee are so popular is the energy boost provided by caffeine. Besides providing short-term improvements in concentration, studies have found that regular caffeine consumption can improve long-term mental function. Preliminary research also suggests that caffeine helps the brain retain new memories. A bonus is that both tea and coffee are good antioxidant sources.

Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds provide vitamin E, another antioxidant. This nutrient supports brain health and improved cognition. Research has found that vitamin E may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Walnuts are probably the best nut for the brain, providing proteins and healthy fats as well as alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that reduces blood pressure. In addition, a UCLA study found a correlation between higher walnut consumption and better scores on cognitive tests. 

Which foods are worst for the brain and overall health? Top offenders include food loaded with saturated fats and trans fats, both responsible for unhealthy levels of LDL cholesterol that can collect on the walls of blood vessels and arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. According to Harvard Health, diets high in unhealthy fats could speed up formation of Alzheimer’s-related beta-amyloid plaques in the brain.

Added sugar is another enemy of brain health. Eating too much sugar can cause inflammation that leads to neurological and vascular damage. The hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory, is most affected by this inflammation. There’s no harm in indulging in the occasional sweet treat, but for a healthier brain, avoid regular consumption of food products that list sugar as one of the main ingredients.

Sources: harvard.health.edu, mayoclinichealthsystem.org and time.com.