Eating for brain power: 4 foods that boost cognition
“Food for thought” is a time-honored expression, but in modern times there are also foods that literally boost brain power. These foods usually have beneficial properties like antioxidants or anti-inflammatories. Of course, it’s not like you can rely on a single magical food to keep up your cognitive strength as you get older. The most important strategy, according to Harvard Health, is to consistently follow a healthy food strategy. This doesn’t mean any particular diet per se, just a food plan that incorporates loads of fruits, veggies and whole grains with protein from plant sources and healthy fats.
Along with this lifelong relationship with wholesome foods, you can emphasize a few choices that particularly promote cognitive function. Try to remember these powerful brain boosters long before the big sales presentation or college exam. You’ll get the best results by including them on the weekly, even the daily, menu at your home. When you want to eat for brain power, consider these four foods first:
That’s right, the “incredible, edible” food has come full circle from the days when fit folks avoided eggs thinking they were too high in cholesterol. Today’s researchers have tapped eggs as a brain booster, largely because they contain choline. When you eat choline, it helps create acetylcholine, a brain chemical critical in many cerebral functions. Choline isn’t exactly a buzzword, but the Food and Nutrition Board of the Nation Institute of Medicine wants adult men and breastfeeding women to get 550 mg per day, while the recommended level for other women is 425 mg. One egg supplies 115 mg of choline, so about 20 percent of the RDA.
Eggs also provide rich amounts of vitamins B6 and B12, which are both stars in assisting brain function. And eggs may be the easiest brain-enhancing food to incorporate into the diet. They’re a relatively inexpensive source of protein, with each egg providing six grams. And even a child can microwave a tasty scrambled egg or peel a hard-boiled egg for a brain-boosting snack.
With the proliferation of delicious kale recipes and farm-to-table seasonal green salads at restaurants in recent years, it’s no longer a deprivation to get greens. That’s great news for the brain since a recent study concluded that eating just a serving of green leafy vegetables per day helps battle the cognitive loss people demonstrate as they age. The finding also extended to other foods rich in lutein, nitrate, folate, α-tocopherol, and phylloquinone, which is Vitamin K.
While the name “fatty fish” won’t win any PR prizes, these fish can be delicious in addition to having brain-enhancing properties. Fatty fish like salmon, cod (frozen or fresh) and canned tuna all contain bunches of omega-3 fatty acids, a powerhouse unsaturated fat. Where brain health is concerned, the most important omega-3 function is lowering the levels of a beta-amyloid protein in the blood known to clump in brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers. Fatty fish are easy to find on the menu at family and upscale eateries, though they’re most affordable eaten from a can of light tuna.
Colorful berries are beautiful, but those natural plant pigments, “flavonoids,” have a practical role, too. The antioxidants they contain reduce toxic “free radicals” in the brain, which diminishes their impact on cognitive decline.
A 2012 Harvard Brigham and Women’s Hospital study determined it’s possible to stave off memory loss by as much as two-and-a-half years by eating two or more servings of blueberries per day. Strawberries are also brain boosters eaten in the same amounts and a 2010 study determined that older adults could improve their learning and memory skills by 20 percent by drinking blueberry juice every day for three months.