When I was in high school back in the 80’s, learning to program computers, my teacher always taught us “garbage in, garbage out,” meaning that if we put bad code into the computer, we’d get bad results in return.
Like all of my school mates back in those days, my body felt as though it were invincible. Now, more than 30 years later, I’m beginning to realize that “garbage in, garbage out,” not only applies to computers but more importantly the food that I choose to eat on a daily basis, as well as other life choices that I make.
I come from a family where my father passed away from Alzheimer’s at only 75 and began showing symptoms in his late 50’s. My mom passed away at age 82, but also showed signs of significant dementia prior to her death. Needless to say, anything that I can do to help my genetic future include steps that I am willing to take. As a Chef, I find the science of food and nutrition fascinating.
I’ve compiled a list of a few everyday foods that will keep your brain healthy, and have done my best to explain why the foods are beneficial in layman’s terms.
Walnuts…In addition to brain health, walnuts benefit the heart as well. They have anti-inflammatory properties, are high in protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Eating omega 3 fatty acids is critical because your body needs them for health, but the body can’t make them, they must be consumed.
Olive Oil…Olive oil is a source of monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are good fats for the body. They are liquid at room temperature and turn into a solid when they are refrigerated. Studies have shown that olive oil may slow the aging of the brain.
Berries…Studies have shown that berries may be linked to a slower mental decline. They are high in antioxidants, which protect blood vessels in the brain from free radicals that can destroy cells.
Sardines, Salmon, Herring, Mackerel, Tuna (and other fatty fish)…All of these fish are high in omega 3 fatty acids. In particular, they are high in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both of which are omega 3 fatty acids found in fatty, cold water fish. EPA and DHA have been shown to lower the risk of dementia and improve memory and focus. Studies have shown improvement in the symptoms of dyslexia and attention deficit disorders.
Coffee…Caffeine is a stimulant that improves mental sharpness. Additionally, coffee is rich in antioxidants that help to maintain brain health. Some studies have shown that coffee can decrease the symptoms of depression.
Spinach & Green Leafy Vegetables…Green leafy vegetables are rich in the antioxidant Lutein which has been shown to protect against cognitive decline. In addition to brain health, Lutein may help to stave off cancer and diabetes.
Dark Chocolate…Like coffee, dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and contains caffeine, which helps to promote mental sharpness. Dark Chocolate is rich in a class of antioxidants called flavonoids that help to improve blood flow by lowering blood pressure and helping to regulate cholesterol.
Avocadoes…are high in monounsaturated fats and improve vascular health and circulation.
Water…Water keeps the brain hydrated. When the brain is dehydrated, short-term memory, focus and decision-making can all be impaired.
Wheat Germ…Wheat germ is a rich vegetarian source of choline, which is a nutrient which the body needs to produce acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that improves memory. Eggs are another good source of choline.
Beets…Beets are rich in nitrates, which improve circulation to the brain.
Garlic…Some studies have shown that garlic can stave off some forms of brain cancer.
Whole Grains (Whole Wheat, Oats, Barley, Rye, Millet)…Unlike highly refined grains, whole grains release glucose slowly into the body to provide fuel evenly over a longer period of time. Whole grains are rich in soluble fiber which helps to lower cholesterol.
Nuts & Seeds…Nuts and seeds are a wonderful source of B6, which helps to aid in the communication of neurons. They are also high in folic acid which has been shown to strengthen memory and may help to prevent Alzheimer’s.
Green Tea…Green tea helps to decrease the plaque deposits in the brain that are believed to lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Tomatoes…Tomatoes are high in a powerful antioxidant called Lycopene. Lycopene helps to protect brain cells which can lead to several types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.