Struggling to remember where you left your car keys? There are many causes of forgetfulness, including lack of sleep, genetics, physical activity level, and environmental and behavioral factors. That being said, there is NO doubt that your diet plays a major role in boosting brain health and function.
The Mediterranean cultures have it right – olive oil really is so good for us for so many reasons, including memory function! Olive oil is a rich source of Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant. Vitamin E may protect neurons (nerve cells), which is crucial to prevent cognitive deterioration and decrease the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
According to a study published in Experimental Gerontology, elderly individuals with a high level of vitamin E in their blood are less likely to suffer from memory loss, when compared to their peers with lower levels.
We know that eggs are packed with goodness, but one of their secret nutrients also helps keep our memory in tact! Eggs are a rich source of vitamin B12, and even a mild vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with an accelerated cognitive decline in both men and women. To compound the problem, our ability to absorb vitamin B 12 declines as we age, and so dietary guidelines actually recommend that individuals over 50 may need to consider including a supplement to keep their levels up. When choosing a B12 supplement, go for one with 100mcg per day of methylcobalamin (vitamin B12’s smart name).
Plan a weekly Indian curry night: researchers have discovered that curcumin, a primary ingredient in turmeric and curry powders, slows the formation of plaque deposits. It has even been shown to destroy plaque accumulations in mouse brains. These plaque deposits—known as amyloid plaques—have been linked to the increased risk for the development of Alzheimers. Curry intake has also been proven to help prevent cancer and heart disease, probably due to it’s turmeric component.
Not only does it have a wonderfully attractive color, beetroot is loaded with wonderful chemical compounds called nitrates. Nitrates are a form of nitric oxide, which is a natural compound that is involved in vascular dilation (and associated blood pressure lowering). The nitrates actually lead to increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, thereby improving mental performance.
Green leafy vegetables contain antioxidants, and are also loaded with a significant amount of folate. Research has shown that folate-rich foods help to improve memory by decreasing inflammation, and by improving blood flow to the brain. Folic acid has also been proven to lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to an increased risk for heart disease. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition published a study whereby researchers followed 321 men for three years and tracked their levels of homocysteine. They found that men with higher levels of homocysteine showed memory decline, and those who ate foods rich in folic acid seemed to fight memory decline.
There’s a reason that fish is called brain food. Several studies have shown that a diet containing generous amounts of omega-3 fatty acids leads to decreased rates of dementia and improved memory recall. At the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, researchers followed more than 6,000 people for four years to assess just how their diet affected their memory. The frequent fish eaters (at least once a week) had a 12% slower memory decline than those who did not eat fish. The fish eaters also saw a 60% reduction in the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Ideally we should aim for three servings (of 120g each) per week of omega-3-rich fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. As an alternative, consider a good quality, pharmaceutical grade omega 3 supplement.
Can’t remember where you put your phone? (Oh, that’s right, it’s in your hand) Have a cup—or three—of coffee. At the University of Innsbruck in Austria, researchers found that consuming the caffeine equivalent of ±2 cups of coffee lead to increased brain activity in two locations, one of which is involved with memory. Another study by researchers at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research found that women over the age of 65, who drank three or more cups of coffee a day, were better at recalling words than women who consumed little or no coffee.
For those of us who prefer chocolate over a cup of coffee: A 2013 study found that adults (aged 73 years on average) who drank two cups of cocoa every day for a month had improved blood flow to the brain, and even performed better on memory tests. Ideally try a bar of dark chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa), which is a good source of flavonoids, antioxidants that have been linked to brain health. Cocoa increases the bioavailability of those wonderful nitrates I mentioned earlier, and so also helps to lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain. Cocoa intake also improves endothelial function (the cells lining your blood vessels).