Fill your plate with these brain-boosting bites to protect your memory now and into old age
Have you ever walked into a room and wondered how you got there? Or tried desperately to remember a person’s name? We all want to stay sharp as we age, especially as the likelihood of developing memory problems such as Alzheimer’s disease increases with age. Genetics plays a role in how good memory is but DNA is not the only factor – what we eat, our lifestyle and daily habits can all shape the risk of having memory problems in the future. It’s not just what we do in our later years that counts – we can make a difference with the right habits at any age.
“Eating a diet high in processed, sugary foods and refined carbohydrates may be linked to the development of memory problems,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Natural Solutions for Dementia & Alzheimer’s and expert in nutritional health for women (marilynglenville.com). “More specifically, high blood sugar levels, as a result of eating these foods, has been found to increase our risk of cognitive impairment. This is not only among the older generation, but also in young people. Instead, eating whole foods including vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish, good quality lean meat, eggs and fruit (whole fruit rather than juice) can benefit all areas of your health, not just your memory!”
Combat memory loss with these nutritional bites
Easy to snack on, berries can be a wonderful brain booster. “Blueberries may improve learning and memory due to the high levels of polyphenols, in particular anthyocyanins,” explains nutritionist Cassandra Barns. “These powerful compounds are thought to protect against oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain. In one study it was indicated that berry consumption alone may delay brain ageing by up to two and a half years! Blueberries are great added to smoothies or sprinkled on porridge or cereals, or just buy a punnet to snack on during the day.”
The omega 3 fat DHA, found in oily fish, is critical for brain health. “The fish in sushi is great brain food,” says Alix Woods, nutritionist for Itsu (itsu.com). “Omega 3 fatty acids repair brain cells, help with memory processes and cognitive functions. As fish is also rich in protein and essential fats, it helps focus the mind, increase concentration and maintain energy.” Fish such as salmon and mackerel can also be a good source of magnesium and B vitamins, including vitamin B12, which are essential for normal nervous system function.
Walnuts, which even resemble a brain, can have memory-boosting properties, as they are rich in antioxidants and full of antiinflammatory properties. “Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids,” says Marilyn. “These components of our cell membranes make up a significant part of the grey matter of the brain. Walnuts are also a good source of magnesium, which has an important role in healthy functioning of the nervous system.”
Whatever you do, don’t throw away the yolks! “Egg yolks are rich in choline, a vitamin-like substance that is crucial for brain health,” explains Cassandra. “Choline is an important methyl donor. This means that it can donate part of its structure to help produce vital substances in the body, including neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, which is associated with learning and memory.”
“Spinach is a good source of folic acid and vitamin C, both of which are needed for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Like other green vegetables, it’s also a source of chlorophyll, which may favour the absorption of iron and promote red blood cell growth, to improve oxygen transport around the body and to the brain,” explains Marilyn. If spinach isn’t to your taste, try asparagus. “Asparagus contains good levels of folic acid, needed for the production of neurotransmitters and also for building healthy red blood cells which transport oxygen to the tissues and brain,” adds Cassandra. “It also contains flavonoids and carotenoids, which can act as antioxidants, protecting against free radical damage.”