Growing up, my grandmother always told my sister and I that, “you are what you eat! If you want to be smart, you must eat foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and don’t forget the good fats.”
Agnes Virga, MD, Emerson Hospital’s chief of neurology, agrees that my grandmother was right! She says, “science tells us that some foods increase awareness and mental sharpness, while other foods tend to make us sluggish and may even give us brain fog. It doesn’t matter what your age is, eating certain foods can boost your memory and sharpen your focus.”
So whether you are studying for an exam or playing a game of Scrabble, these foods will certainly give you the mental edge.
Broccoli is packed with antioxidants and vitamin K. Some studies have linked vitamin K intake to better memory skills. Broccoli is rich in compounds called glucosinolates. When the body breaks these down, they produce isothiocyanates which may reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Oily fish, like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, and trout, are a great protein source and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to boosting brain health. What makes oily fish so good is that they contain these active fats in a ready-made form, which means the body can use it easily. These healthy fats have amazing brain power. A diet with higher levels of them has been linked to lower dementia and stroke risks, and slower mental decline. Plus, they may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older.
Blueberries are powerful little antioxidants. They protect the brain against oxidative stress and contain memory-boosting agents like anthocyanin and flavonoids to enhance spatial memory and learning. They improve cognitive function and significantly slow brain aging. A new body of research suggests that eating grapes and blueberries together may result in a dramatic decline in memory loss and aging.
Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, arugula, and collard greens, are also jam-packed with antioxidants, iron, beta carotene, and minerals that improve concentration and slow cognitive decline.
Certain herbs and spices can help you stay sharp. Turmeric reduces inflammation and increases blood flow to the brain. Apigenin in parsley, thyme, oregano, and basil, can protect the brain from inflammation, oxidation, and plaque formation and make your food tastier.
Pumpkin seeds are packed with brain-boosting nutrients like unsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, zinc, copper, and iron. They supply this valuable mineral, which is vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills. Being deficient in any of these nutrients can cause a decline in brain function.
Dark chocolate has antioxidant properties to combat cognitive decline, as well as the natural stimulant of caffeine to enhance focus. Dark chocolate can help improve memory, alertness, and clarity by increasing blood flow to the brain.
Tea and coffee contain caffeine which offers short-term concentration boosts, as well as help in solidifying new memories. Caffeine acts as a psychostimulant as it speeds up information processing.
Green tea boosts brain function by improving alertness, memory, and focus. Catechins in green tea are thought to be the reason why tea supports memory function. It is also rich in polyphenols that can protect the brain from mental decline.
In addition to a healthy diet, exercise helps to keep our brains sharp. Research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down mental aging, and helps us process information more effectively.
Memory Boosting Recipes
Here are some delicious recipes for you to try to help you remain sharp!
Memory Boosting Grape & Blueberry Gluten-free Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 2 flax eggs *recipe below
- ¾ cup vegan plain yogurt
- 2 cups gluten-free flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup blueberries
- ½ cup red or purple grapes, cut in thirds
1.Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F
2.In a medium bowl mix together the maple syrup, flax eggs, and yogurt
3.In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, blueberries, and grapes
4.Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture until it is well combined
5.Fill a greased muffin tray with the batter and place in oven. Bake for approximately 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out dry.
6.Set aside to cool.
*Flax eggs — Whisk 2 tablespoons of ground flax with 5½ tablespoons of water. Place in refrigerator for 10 minutes to thicken
Source: Ordinary Vegan
Simple Summer Sauteed Greens
- 1/8 cup water
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 bunches swiss chard or other greens (spinach or kale) – separately chop the stems into ¼-inch pieces and roughly chop the leaves
- 2 tsp of tamari or soy sauce
- Sesame seeds
1. Sauté the chopped garlic in a saucepan with 1/8 cup of water until lightly browned.
2. Add chopped stems, stirring frequently. Add more water if the mixture dries out.
3. Add the rest of the greens, stirring frequently.
4. Pour in the tamari or soy sauce to your taste and continue to sauté until softened, about 8-10 minutes.
5. Lightly sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the greens.
6. Serve with whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, or with a piece of wild salmon, adding more tamari or soy sauce, as needed.
Source: Kait’s Kitchen
Podcast: Boosting Your Immune System with Food
Liz Berman, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist with Acton Medical Associates, an adult and pediatric primary care practice affiliated with Emerson Hospital.
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About the Author: Kaitlin (Kait) Schuster is a recent graduate of Noble & Greenough School in Dedham. She lives in Sudbury with her parents, sister, three cats, and a dog. Kait will be attending Cornell University this fall.