Foods aren't just fuel for your body. True, they provide the energy you need, yet some have benefits that go well beyond simple nourishment.
Explore the recesses of your refrigerator and you may find foods that science is, increasingly, crediting with being especially supportive for brain health. These edibles may improve memory, clarify thinking, delay cognitive decline, and perhaps even ward off Alzheimer's disease.
Recent research shows that you may want to include the following on your shopping list more often for brain-strengthening nourishment:
• Apple juice and pomegranate juice
• Red grapes, cherries, apples, blueberries and strawberries
• Tea and cocoa
• Salmon and light tuna
• Soy foods
• Sunflower seeds, walnuts
• Vegetables, especially leafy greens
• Canola oil, olive oil
• Dark chocolate
When buying processed or packaged foods containing these ingredients, be sure to read the nutrition labels carefully. Some of these "good" foods may be prepared with high amounts of sugar, fat or salt added to them, resulting in too many calories or too much sodium in your diet. For healthful eating, choose fresh versions of these foods most often, or prepare them with low-fat ingredients. Eat processed types in moderation.
For example, you can still get the benefits of pomegranate juice (which has sugar added to offset its tart flavor) by mixing one or two ounces into sparkling water as a spritzer. Cocoa made with nonfat milk gives your brain a boost without adding extra fat. And letting a small piece of dark chocolate melt slowly in your mouth prolongs your enjoyment while keeping your daily intake healthful (one ounce or less).
For brain health as well as overall health, be sure to avoid foods containing saturated fats or trans fats (check those nutrition labels!). Diets that are high in such fats are specifically related to declining brain capabilities.
Tchantchou F, Chan A, Kifle L, et al. "Apple Juice Concentrate Prevents Oxidative Damage and Impaired Maze Performance in Aged Mice." Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 8(3): 283-287, 2005.
Hartman RE, Shah A, Fagan AM, et al. "Pomegranate Juice Decreases Amyloid Load and Improves Behavior in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer's Disease." Neurobiology of Disease, 24(3): 506-515, 2006.
Van Praag H, Lucero MJ, Yeo GW, et al. "Plant-derived Flavanol (-)Epicatechin Enhances Angiogenesis and Retention of Spatial Memory in Mice." Journal of Neuroscience, 27(22): 5869-5878, 2007.
International Food Information Council. "Functional Foods." http://www.ific.org/nutrition/functional
Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, et al. "Associations of Vegetable and Fruit Consumption With Age-Related Cognitive Change." Neurology, 67(8): 1370-1376, 2006.
Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, et al. "Dietary Copper and High Saturated and Trans Fat Intakes Associated with Cognitive Decline." Archives of Neurology, 63(8): 1085-1088, 2006.
© 2008 National Women’s Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.healthywomen.org.