5 Foods for a Healthy Brain

Did you know your brain uses up to 30 percent of the calories you consume? If you want to boost your brain power and feel your best, high-quality nutrition is a must. A malnourished brain can lead to fatigue, memory loss, anxiety, depression, lack of focus, and more serious conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The brain-boosting foods below are backed by science and offer a smart way to increase your energy, sharpen your focus and prevent cognitive decline.

A growing body of evidence shows that consuming fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids improves brain memory and performance. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in most oily fish, including salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines. The two most studied omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA makes up a large portion of the gray matter of the brain and is a crucial nutrient for building cell membranes and boosting neuron function. EPA improves blood flow to the brain, enhancing mood and improving focus. Check out ewg.org/seafood to find which fish are richest in omega-3 fatty acids, lowest in mercury and sustainably produced. And don’t worry about weight gain from eating oily fish. Increasing omega-3 fatty acids in the diet has an added perk of decreasing appetite and reducing body fat.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, no problem. Good plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include avocados, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and soybeans. Pumpkin seeds are also high in zinc, which is vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills. Most raw seeds and nuts are high in vitamin E as well, which has been shown to prevent cognitive decline.

Fondly coined “brainberries” by Steven Pratt, MD, coauthor of SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, blueberries have been scientifically proven to delay and even reverse short-term memory loss. The brain-protective compounds in blueberries are powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have recently been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a compound that helps with brain health and plasticity. They are also high in vitamin C, long known for increasing mental agility and protecting against age-related brain degeneration such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Broccoli is a great source of crucial nutrients that protect brain function. Vitamin K found in broccoli is known to enhance overall cognitive function. Glucosinolates, which slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, can help your central nervous system perform properly and keep your memory sharp. Broccoli also has a sizable dose of folic acid, which can ward off depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

Certain B vitamins found in both eggs and chicken, including B6, B12 and folic acid (B9), are known to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. These B vitamins in combination with high levels of omega-3s have been proven to reduce brain atrophy. Vegans and vegetarians can get these B vitamins from eating dark leafy greens but may need a B-vitamin supplement to get adequate protection.

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