Eat smarter for a healthier brain
While we all need a balanced, healthy diet, there's some evidence some foods are better than others for our brains as we get older.
Here are some 'smart' foods to consider:
Called 'brainberries' by some experts. In animal studies researchers have found that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. They're tasty fresh, frozen or dried.
Deep-water fish such as salmon are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which studies suggest are essential for brain function. Omega-3s also contain anti-inflammatory substances. Other oily fish that provide the benefits of omega-3s include sardines and herring.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are good sources of vitamin E. According to some studies, higher levels of vitamin E correspond with less cognitive decline as you get older. However, studies are inconclusive and more research is needed. Add 25g (1oz) a day of walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, linseeds and non-hydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter and tahini. Raw or roasted doesn't matter, although if you're on a low-salt diet, buy unsalted nuts.
Some animal research suggests avocados are also good for brain health, but more research is needed. Avocado is a fatty fruit, but it’s monounsaturated fat, which helps maintain healthy blood flow. Some studies suggest avocados may help maintain healthy blood pressure. Hypertension is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities, so a lower blood pressure should promote brain health. Avocados are high in calories however.
The British Dietetic Association says "Evidence is mounting that eating wholegrains regularly as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle may help to reduce the risk of many common diseases." The BDA cites a 2000 study by researchers at the University of Kentucky that suggests heart diseases and type 2 diabetes may be up to 30% lower in people who regularly eat wholegrain as part of a low-fat diet and healthy lifestyle. Wholegrains are found in oats, wholemeal breads and brown rice.
Beans or pulses may help stabilise glucose (blood sugar) levels. The brain is dependent on glucose for fuel, and since it can't store the glucose, it relies on a steady stream of energy, which beans can help provide. Any beans will do, including lentils.
Pomegranate juice (you can eat the fruit itself but with its many tiny seeds, it's not nearly as convenient) offers potent antioxidant benefits. These may help protect the brain from the damage of free radicals. Animal studies show pomegranates, which have very high levels of antioxidants, may have a protective effect on the brain, but more studies are needed. Citrus fruits and colourful vegetables boast antioxidant properties - often the more colourful the better.
Two to three cups of tea a day contain some caffeine, which may help enhance memory, focus and mood. Tea also has potent antioxidants, especially the class known as catechines, which promotes healthy blood flow. A Japanese study of 1,000 people over 70 found that those who drank the most green tea showed the least signs of the cognitive decline associated with ageing.
Plain chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties and contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhances focus and concentration. A study by food scientists found that the antioxidant concentration in a cup of hot chocolate was higher than that found in either red wine or green tea. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, which helps improve mood.