Bowl of walnuts shelled in foreground with bowl of walnuts in shell and walnut shells and nut cracker on side atop rustic wooden table
Food For Thought: 9 Fruits, Vegetables & Proteins to Promote Brain Health

It is no secret that what we put into our bodies has a direct effect on our health. Experts say this is especially true when it comes to matters of the brain. Living healthfully means eating mindfully.

Unfortunately, cognitive decline affects millions around the world, and is no way to spend one’s golden years. According to a University of Florida publication, “ongoing research increasingly indicates that a poor diet is a risk factor for memory impairments during normal aging and increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Incorporating brain healthy foods into your everyday diet may be a smart way to help protect yourself. Here’s a list that we’ve compiled hearing from experts:

Walnuts

Nuts of all kinds contain mono-unsaturated fats, which besides delivering oxygen to the brain, also attacks free radicals. Walnuts are a particularly great brain food due to their high alpha-linolenic acid, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s are important for brain health and are found in other foods like olive oil. Nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts also contain omega 3s, though at lower levels than walnuts. Snack on nuts throughout the day, or add them to salads, granola, or use as a nut butter to smear on a slice of toast. 

Blueberries

Blueberries contain powerful antioxidants, in particular something called anthocyanins. Blueberries, as well as other berries, deliver these important anti-inflammatory compounds to your brain and help combat oxidative stress, which can lead to premature aging. Add blueberries to a yogurt and granola parfait for breakfast, toss into smoothies, or simply snack away.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a powerhouse when it comes to brain health. They contain lycopene, which has been shown to be an anti-inflammatory, reduce risk of neurodegenerative diseases, and may help reduce memory loss and support memory function. Lycopene is fat soluble, so drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil – another brain food – over your tomatoes or use it to cook your tomato sauce. 

Sunflower Seeds 

Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E, which protects cells from oxidative stress. These, and many different types of seeds, have the same benefits as nuts, including being a good source of omega-3s and mono-unsaturated fats. Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent option as they help protect from free radicals. Try sprinkling either sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds on a salad for lunch, and chia seeds or flax seeds in smoothies or atop yogurt and granola. Note: ground flax and chia seeds are said to be more bioavailable than whole seeds. 

Salmon

Eat fatty fish like salmon, but also mackerel or sardines, to slow brain aging. These fish are chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, which the brain uses to build cells. A diet rich in these fish have been shown to slow mental decline. Add smoked salmon to salads, or have roasted salmon for dinner.

Broccoli

Broccoli contains vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta carotene, all which work to slow cognitive decline. Other green vegetables, such as kale, Swiss chard and cabbage, deliver the same benefits. All of these contain glucosinolates, which when broken down by the body produces isothiocyanates. These lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Roast broccoli as a side dish, steam it and drizzle with olive oil, or make a broccoli soup. 

Dark Chocolate

Chocolate contains flavonoids, an antioxidant that can improve blood flow to the brain. Flavonoids can also reduce oxidative stress. Choose a dark chocolate, about 70%, for the most benefit. Avoid chocolate candy that contains high amounts of sugar. Have a square of dark chocolate as a snack anytime throughout the day.

Turmeric

Turmeric contains curcumin, which boosts a brain hormone that protects, strengthens and improves neuron growth. Curcumin can also help with creating new stem cells. Furthermore, recent studies have shown the potential for turmeric to prevent the amyloid-beta clumps in the brain which are associated with Alzheimers. Turmeric is most easily used in cooking as a ground spice, and can flavor Indian or Southeast Asian dishes. It’s also easily added to smoothies, scrambled eggs, homemade salad dressings, roasted vegetables, or cooked with rice. 

Eggs

Eggs are rich in B vitamins, which may reduce brain shrinkage, and also slow cognitive decline. Homocysteine is an amino acid that could be related to dementia, and B vitamins have been shown to lower levels in the body. Eggs are also a good source of folate, which when a body is deficient in, may contribute to mental decline. Enjoy eggs for breakfast, use hard boiled eggs in salads, or use eggs to make a frittata for dinner.

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