How can diet help your brain? Let us count the ways
Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic, enjoys introducing her clients to “super foods” that benefit the body in numerous ways. Some are particularly good for the brain as well. Here are a dozen that she recommends.
This cold-water fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and help brain cells work properly. Albacore tuna and sardines also provide omega-3s, but to a lesser degree.
Another source of omega-3s, walnuts also contain linoleic and linolenic fatty acids, which preserve the health of brain cells by allowing nutrients to pass back and forth. If you’re allergic to nuts, ground flaxseed also is a good source of essential fatty acids.
These contain an amino acid that helps neurotransmitters process more efficiently. In addition, they have riboflavin (B2), known to boost memory.
These have the phytochemical anthocyanin, which “preserves a healthy brain, strengthens the brain and also increases cells in the hippocampus, which helps with clarity,” Ms. Jamieson-Petonic says. They’re good for the memory as well. “Blueberries are amazing,” she says.
5. Sunflower seeds.
These nutrient-packed seeds are high in tryptophan, which not only helps you sleep better but also elevates your mood.
6. Pumpkin seeds.
Also known as pepitas, these contain zinc, vitamins A and E, omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. They benefit memory and thinking skills.
7. Green tea.
This contains catechins, naturally occurring antioxidants that enhance memory and boost clarity. “Green tea is good for keeping your wits about you,” Ms. Jamieson-Petonic says.
These contain choline, which boosts the memory center in the brain. “Choline increases the size of neurons, which helps them fire electrical signals more strongly and rebound faster between firing,” she says.
9. Extra-virgin olive oil.
Ms. Jamieson-Petonic recommends the cold-pressed variety. Olive oil contains hydroxyl tyrosol, which protects the brain cells from oxidative stress, also known as free radicals. Free radicals are implicated in many degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s. “Certain foods can either reduce oxidative stress or increase it,” she says. “I like how empowering that is for my clients. They know they have the power to reduce or prevent disease.”
A great source of lycopene, which Ms. Jamieson-Petonic calls “an amazing antioxidant,” tomatoes also protect against free radicals. They have to be cooked to release the lycopene.
A source of calcium, yogurt also has tyrosine, which is responsible for making the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline. They improve alertness and memory. “We’re not talking fruit or flavored yogurt, just plain, nonfat Greek, soy or regular yogurt,” she says.
12. Dark chocolate.
“Finish off the list with chocolate, but make it 70 percent dark chocolate,” Ms. Jamieson-Petonic says. Dark chocolate is high in flavonols, a type of antioxidant that improves the blood supply to the brain and enhances cognitive skills.
There’s no need to obsess over eating every one of these foods on a daily basis. “No one food is perfect,” says Ms. Jamieson-Petonic, who is Director of Wellness Coaching for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Enterprise. “It’s not always feasible to have almonds, salmon and blueberries every day. Just make sure to include them when you go grocery shopping so that you have them on hand.”
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