The role of diet in brain health has grown to such an extent that it even has its own name – neuro-nutrition. And no wonder: there’s strong evidence that some foods are especially good for cognitive functioning and memory.
Olive Oil and Nuts: A study published in July, 2015 found that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with either 33 ounces of extra virgin olive oil or 7 ounces of a mixture of walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds per week for four years could improve memory and thinking ability in 334 men and women in their 60s.
Dr. Emilio Ros, who led the study, said:
“You can delay the onset of age-related mental decline with a healthy diet rich in foods with a high antioxidant power, such as extra virgin olive oil and nuts.
“Because the average age of participants was 67 when the trial began, one can say that it is never too late to change your diet to maintain or even improve brain function.”
Senior clinical nutritionist Samantha Heller from New York Medical Center agrees, “Healthy fats from foods like nuts and olive oil play crucial roles in brain function and health.”
Citrus Fruit: These are high in antioxidants and contain the highest concentration of flavanones – a subclass of flavonoids. They protect brain areas concerned with perception and recognition.
Data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which involved 69,622 participants over 14 years, found those who consumed the most citrus fruit (mainly oranges and orange juice) had a 19% reduced risk of ischemic stroke, in which blood supply to the brain is blocked.
Victor Marchione, M.D., calls citrus fruit “the new brain food,” and urges you to “add some citrus fruits to your diet to get some brain protection.”
Fish: A study published in 2014 showed that healthy people past the age of 65 who eat baked or broiled fish at least once a week have bigger brains. According to this article, the fish can be virtually any kind; it doesn’t have to be “oily” fish such as salmon.
The participants had 14% more gray matter in areas associated with memory and four percent more in areas associated with cognition.
Lead author Dr. Cyrus Raji said:
“If you eat fish just once a week, your hippocampus—the big memory and learning center—is 14% larger than in people who don’t eat fish that frequently.
“If you have a stronger hippocampus, your risk of Alzheimer’s is going to go down.
“In the orbital frontal cortex, which controls executive function, it’s a solid 4%. I don’t know of any drug or supplement that’s been shown to do that.”
Oxford University professor of physiology John Stein agrees, “Eating at least one portion of fish a week can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by ten years.”
Chocolate: A number of studies have shown that compounds called flavanols in chocolate can increase cerebral blood flow, protect and help neurons grow, improve memory and increase mental sharpness. They also have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Beatrice Golomb, Associate Professor at the University of California who has published research on chocolate, says it is “rich in plant-based phytonutrients that have a range of health effects. It has a number of important antioxidants, as well as having a lot of other neuroactive properties.”
Dark chocolate is richer in these phytonutrients and so will offer the most benefits. Milk chocolate is merely dark chocolate diluted with other substances of little nutritional value, mainly milk and sugar.
Berries: A rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, berries also contain compounds called anthocyanins which are another type of flavonoid. Together with flavanols, these are among the most important nutrients when it comes to brain health.
Researchers have found anthocyanins can cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the hippocampus to improve learning and memory and stall age-related mental decline.
Scientists at the University of Cincinnati who carried out research into blueberries said that “consistent supplementation with blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration.”
Our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions, offers an anthocyanin supplement called Theraflex ACN that is an extract of aronia berries, the richest source of this nutrient discovered so far. While you probably wouldn’t want to snack on aronia berries (or be able to find them in a store), their tart flavor is no problem when taken as a capsule. Click here to learn more about this source of anthocyanins.
If you want to do even more for your cognition, also consider going all-out with the Mediterranean diet. The evidence to date is that it’s highly protective of brain health (cardiovascular health as well). As you may remember, this eating plan is rich in unsaturated fats (especially olive oil), vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, certain spices and red wine.