"Brainberries" is what Steven Pratt, MD, author of Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life, calls these tasty fruits. Pratt, who is also on staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., says that in animal studies researchers have found that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Studies have also shown that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to much younger rats. Ann Kulze, MD, author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss & Lifelong Vitality, recommends adding at least 1 cup of blueberries a day in any form -- fresh, frozen, or freeze-dried.Evidence accumulated at Tufts University in the United States suggests that the consumption of blueberries may be effective in improving or delaying short term memory loss. Widely available, so there's no excuse.
Deep-water fish, such as salmon, are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are essential for brain function. They recommend wild salmon for its "cleanliness" and the fact that it is in plentiful supply. Omega-3s also contain anti-inflammatory substances. Other oily fish that provide the benefits of omega-3s are sardines and herring, says Kulze; she recommends a 4-ounce serving, two to three times a week. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish as EPA and DHA. Good sources include linseed (flaxseed) oil, soya bean oil, pumpkin seeds, walnut oil and soya beans. They are good for healthy brain function, the heart, joints and general wellbeing. Oily fish contains EPA and DHA in a ready-made form, which enables the body to use it easily. The main sources of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers. Low DHA levels have been linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and memory loss.
3. Nuts and seeds.
Nuts and seeds are good sources of vitamin E, says Pratt, explaining that higher levels of vitamin E correspond with less cognitive decline as you get older. Add an ounce a day of walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and unhydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini. Raw or roasted doesn't matter, although if you're on a sodium-restricted diet, buy unsalted nuts. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that a good intake of vitamin E might help to prevent cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E along with leafy green vegetables, asparagus, olives, seeds, eggs, brown rice and wholegrains.
Avocados are almost as good as blueberries in promoting brain health, says Pratt. "I don't think the avocado gets its due," agrees Kulze. True, the avocado is a fatty fruit, but, says Kulze, it's a monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow. "And healthy blood flow means a healthy brain," she says. Avocados also lower blood pressure, says Pratt, and as hypertension is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities, a lower blood pressure should promote brain health. Avocados are high in calories, however, so she suggests adding just 1/4 to 1/2 of an avocado to one daily meal as a side dish.
5. Whole grains.
Whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole-grain breads, and brown rice can reduce the risk for heart disease. "Every organ in the body is dependent on blood flow," says Pratt. "If you promote cardiovascular health, you're promoting good flow to the organ system, which includes the brain." While wheat germ is not technically a whole grain, it also goes on Kulze's "superfoods" list because in addition to fiber, it has vitamin E and some omega-3s. She suggests 1/2 cup of whole-grain cereal, 1 slice of bread two-thee times day, or 2 tablespoons of wheat germ a day.
Beans are "under-recognized" and "economical," says Kulze. They also stabilize glucose (blood sugar) levels. The brain is dependent on glucose for fuel, and since it can't store the glucose, it relies on a steady stream of energy -- which beans can provide. Any beans will do, but she is especially partial to lentils and black beans and recommends 1/2 cup every day.
7. Pomegranate juice.
Pomegranate juice (you can eat the fruit itself but with its many tiny seeds, it's not nearly as convenient) offers potent antioxidant benefits, which protect the brain from the damage of free radicals. "Probably no part of the body is more sensitive to the damage from free radicals as the brain," says board-certified neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, author of The Better Brain Book. Citrus fruits and colorful vegetables are also high on Perlmutter's list of "brainy" foods because of their antioxidant properties -- "the more colorful the better," he says. Because pomegranate juice has added sugar (to counteract its natural tartness), you don't want to go overboard, is recommended approximately 2 ounces a day, diluted with spring water or seltzer.
8. Freshly brewed tea.
Two to three cups a day of freshly brewed tea -- hot or iced -- contains a modest amount of caffeine which, when used "judiciously," - can boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus, and mood. Tea also has potent antioxidants, especially the class known as catechines, which promotes healthy blood flow. Bottled or powdered teas don't do the trick, however. "It has to be freshly brewed." Tea bags do count, however.
9. Dark chocolate.
Let's end with the good stuff. Dark chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties, contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhance focus and concentration, and stimulates the production of endorphin, which helps improve mood. One-half ounce to 1 ounce a day will provide all the benefits you need. This is one "superfood" where more is not better. "You have to do this one in moderation,".
There is good evidence to suggest that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer's.
11. B Vitamins
Certain B vitamins - B6, B12 and folic acid - are known to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. A study of a group of elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment found that after two years of intervention with high doses of B6, B12 and folic acid there was significantly less brain shrinkage compared to a subset given placebo treatment.
12. Pumpkin seeds
Just a handful of pumpkin seeds a day is all you need to get your recommended daily amount of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills.
A great source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.
Sage has long had a reputation for improving memory and although most studies focus on sage as an essential oil, it could be worth adding fresh sage to your diet too.
15. Olive oil
Chalk up one more reason why this oil is a smart choice: It's an excellent source of polyphenols—powerful antioxidants that have can help prevent and even reverse age- and disease-related memory problems. Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that extra virgin olive oil improves learning and memory, and other studies have shown that swapping saturated fats for mono- and polyunsaturated fats (like the kind found in olive oil) is associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer's disease.
16. Green leafy vegetables
Loaded with vitamin K, greens such as spinach, kale, and collards have been shown to slow cognitive decline. According to a new study from Rush University Medical Center, people who ate 1 to 2 servings of leafy greens each day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who consumed none.
Now that you know you have no excuses. I am sure you can find at least one item to add to your diet. Start with a new one every month, one that you like. After one year you will have most of them, and probably your memory boost will be significant.