Eat your way to a better brain

A good diet rich in these 10 foods can keep your memory and cognitive function in tip-top shape.
A great breakfast to jumpstart the brain? Berries and yogurt, of course. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
A great breakfast to jumpstart the brain? Berries and yogurt, of course. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Want to keep your mind as sharp as possible? Tend to your belly.

Here’s some food for thought: Research has shown that what you eat plays a role in how efficient your brain is, and that certain foods may help lower your risk for developing dementia.

By choosing the right foods, you can promote healthier blood vessels and prevent inflammation, which has been linked to cognitive decline.

Here’s a list of 10 foods to include in your diet to keep your thinker thinking properly:

1. Berries

Cherries, blueberries and strawberries provide antioxidants to promote better blood flow and protect brain tissues. Studies show they improve memory and decrease the risk of dementia. Aim to include at least one cup of berries in your diet each day.

2. Green leafy vegetables

These are excellent sources of folate, flavonoids and carotenoids. These nutrients can help improve blood flow and aid in the production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material. Include three to six servings daily of spinach, kale, collard greens or broccoli.

Foods to avoid or eat less

  • Saturated fats. These are artery-clogging fats that have been shown to increase risk for developing Alzheimer’s. The MIND diet recommends four servings or less of red meat, which is higher in saturated fat, per week.
  • Trans fats. They have a negative impact on your heart and may decrease blood flow, so avoid them. They are common in coffee creamers, margarine, commercial frosting or some nut butters.
  • Enriched, bleached or refined flours. Limit these by making at least half of your grains whole grains.
  • High fructose corn syrup. Look for these in breads, yogurts or condiments and avoid them.
  • Excess calories. Too many pounds on your body will make it less efficient, impacting blood flow to your brain. So pay attention to hunger cues and eat mindfully for your body and mind.

3. Fish

Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in the structure of the brain cell membrane and can reduce inflammatory processes that are linked with cognitive decline. They are considered feel-good fats because they have been shown to influence mood and ward off depression. Not a fan of fish? Consider talking to your doctor about adding an omega-3 supplement containing EPA and DHA.

4. Flaxseeds or chia seeds

These contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which can help promote healthy brain development and heart health. Aim for five servings of these each week.

5. Coffee or tea

Some studies have shown that, in moderate doses (three cups or less daily), caffeine can boost long-term memory performance and thinking ability. Talk to your doctor before adding this to your diet.

6. Probiotics

To boost blood flow and improve your mood, enjoy a daily dose of yogurt or other probiotic-containing foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha or miso soup.

7. Whole grains

Aim for three servings or more each day and include a variety, such as quinoa, oatmeal, whole grain breads or popcorn (without added salt) to improve brain health.

8. Nuts

One serving of nuts includes healthy fats, fiber and important vitamins and minerals that can promote healthy blood flow. Incorporate an ounce of walnuts, almonds, pecans or pistachios five times each week, and choose unsalted versions for a healthy heart.

9. Beans

Beans are an excellent source of folate, one of the B vitamins. Eating three servings or more each week can be beneficial to your mind as well as your heart and gut.

10. Plant-based oils

This includes olive, canola, peanut or sunflower oils that contain healthy polyunsaturated fats, which reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Holly Dykstra, MA, RD, is a cardiovascular dietitian in Preventive Cardiology and Rehab at Spectrum Health.

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Comments (1)

  • Thank you! Keep it coming! We need all of the help with nutrition we can get! New information,ways of preparing essentials, etc.
    Here’s to a healthier October!!

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