10 Top Foods To Boost Brainpower
Chana Masala, a traditional South Asian chickpea curry, packs a triple punch for brain health (photo: public domain library)
Would you add chickpeas to your soup and celery to your salad if you knew they might sharpen your thinking and prevent age-related memory loss? That’s the premise behind this list of foods rich in compounds that nourish neurons, boost neurotransmitter production, reduce inflammation, and protect against neural degeneration.
Turmeric, the spice that gives curry and mustard their yellow color, contains a chemical called curcumin that’s the subject of numerous neurologic studies right now. Research has shown curcumin’s ability to boost memory, slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and stimulate neurogenesis, which is the process of creating new brain cells. Studies suggest curcumin may also clear out amyloid plaques, the brain gunk thought to be a cause of Alzheimer’s, and calm inflammation of brain and nerve cells.
In 2010, an intriguing study came out linking the plant compound luteolin with lower rates of age-related memory loss. The reason: Luteolin appears to calm inflammation in the brain, which experts now believe to be primary cause of neurodegeneration. By inhibiting the action of inflammatory cytokines, luteolin seems to prevent a cycle of degenerative changes in the brain. Celery is one of the richest sources of luteolin; other good sources include peppers and carrots.
3. Broccoli and Cauliflower
For some time, researchers have been investigating the role of choline in brain development, looking at whether choline has the potential to spur the growth of new brain cells and neural connections. Studies have shown that prenatal choline supplementation appears to boost later intelligence while choline deficiency has been linked with neural tube defects. In adults, choline keeps neurotransmitters healthy, keeping you sharp and your memory strong. Remember wheat germ? One cup has 202 mg of choline; beef liver is the best dietary source of choline with 473 mg in a five-ounce serving. Much easier to incorporate brocoli and cauliflower, with 182 and 177 mg, respectively. Added value: Broccoli is also high in vitamin K, studied for its effect in boosting cognition.
Scientists don’t know exactly how omega-3 fatty acids exert such a protective effect on the brain, but research suggests they boost the function of neurotransmitters. One study found that seniors whose blood contained high levels of omega-3 fatty acds, particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) had the greatest brain volume and also tested highest on a set of memory and cognitive skills. Omega-3s are heart-healthy too, helping keep arteries clear and blood flow strong, and good circulation benefits the brain as well. While salmon is one of the best known and richest source of omega 3s, it’s also not a food you want to eat every day due to the mercury content. But you can make walnuts a daily habit, sprinkling a handful on a salad or eating them as an afternoon snack. Walnuts also contain memory-protective vitamin B6 (see below).
You don’t see crab on many power food lists, do you? But you should. One serving of crab has 1840 mg (more than your entire daily requirement) of phenylalanine, an amino acid needed to make the important neurotransmitter dopamine, as well as brain-stimulating adrenaline and noradrenaline and thyroid hormone. Many types of fish and seafood are rich in phenylalanine, but I’m singling crab out because it’s easy to find and it’s less likely to be high in mercury, an issue with tuna and other popular fish. Research also suggests phenylalanine may be helpful in combating Parkinson’s disease. Added value: Crab is also one of the best dietary sources of vitamin B12 (see below) with one serving providing 192 percent of your daily requirement.
Buckwheat (here in pancakes) and bananas both have neuroprotective effects.
6. Chickpeas or Garbanzo Beans
It’s not easy to find good food sources of magnesium, a mineral that plays a key role in energy metabolism. But it’s important – magnesium is highly beneficial for brain cell receptors, speeding message transmission. Magnesium also relaxes blood vessels, letting more blood through to feed the brain. But studies show that our American diet is magnesium poor, and most adults average only 66 percent of the recommended requirement of magnesium. Meanwhile, stress has been shown to leach magnesium from the body. So where to find this scarce mineral? Answer: in strange places. For example, the most potent magnesium source is kelp, with 780 mg of magnesium in a serving. But since kelp probably isn’t on your dinner menu, build a meal around chickpeas instead, which contain 220 mg of magnesium in a one-cup serving.
10 Top Foods To Boost Brainpower – Forbes