You may be aware of foods that protect our hearts and bones and even keep our weight in check as we age. But which foods keep our brains in top shape? Below is an evidence-based list of brain foods that may help pre-empt senior moments and more.
Berries may do more than add sweetness and color to a morning bowl of cereal or yogurt. In fact, they may help to keep our brains sharp as we age.
In a study that looked at the diet habits of more than 16,000 older women over a 15-year period, researchers found that those who consumed at least one half-cup of blueberries or at least one cup of strawberries each week had slower rates of cognitive decline. Specifically, when women were given various tests, including the ability to recall words or retell a story, the berries appeared to slow memory decline by up to 2½ years, according to lead author Elizabeth Devore, associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The fact that diet intake was followed for such a long time is meaningful, as it’s long enough to also potentially impact the pathology of diseases that may begin in midlife, such as Alzheimer’s, explained Devore.
Berries contain natural compounds known as anthocyanidins, which, in addition to contributing color to fruit, may help keep our brains in top shape through their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
“Inflammation and oxidative stress have been implicated in cognitive decline,” Devore said. Additionally, animal research has revealed that anthocyanidins cross the blood-brain barrier, which may directly impact neurons involved with learning and memory, she explained.
Green and leafy cruciferous vegetables
Stick with the salad for lunch and broccoli at dinner: These veggies are not only helpful in boosting vitamins and fiber, they may keep our brains young.
A recent study from Rush University involving close to 1,000 adults found that those who ate just one serving of leafy greens per day (think spinach, kale, collard greens and arugula) appeared 11 years younger in terms of their cognitive health compared with those who rarely or never consumed green leafy vegetables.
“When we looked at memory, the speed at which you can think and being able to understand visual spatial relationships — for every single one of these domains, leafy greens slowed decline,” said study author Dr. Martha Clare Morris, a professor of internal medicine and the director of the Rush Institute for Health Aging and the MIND Center for Brain Health.
Morris, who is also the creator of the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, said the protective nutrients in leafy greens include vitamin E, folate, lutein, beta-carotene and vitamin K.
“Leafy greens have so many nutrients that are protective of the brain,” she said. “Each one is doing something a little different, but together, they protect the brain in many different ways.”
The findings are consistent with research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which found that women who munched on eight servings of green leafy vegetables and five servings of cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli and cauliflower) each week did better on memory tests, appearing one to two years younger in terms of their cognitive age as they entered their 70s, compared with those who consumed only three servings of green leafy vegetables and two servings of cruciferous vegetables per week. (One serving was equivalent to half a cup of vegetables.)
“The aging brain, particularly the areas involved in memory, is susceptible to oxidative stress and inadequate blood flow. Both cruciferous and green leafy vegetables are high in antioxidants, B vitamins, fiber and other nutrients that are directly neuroprotective or may lower the risk of cardiovascular risk factors or conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which are associated with cognitive decline,” said lead study author Jae H. Kang, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.