Eat Your Way Smarter: Brain-Boosting Foods

Eat Your Way Smarter: Brain-Boosting Foods

We know that eating well is good for our bodies but, increasingly, health experts and diet wizards are arguing that certain foods can do wonders for our brains. In “Power Foods for the Brain: An Effective 3-Step Plan to Protect Your Mind and Strengthen Your Memory,” clinical health researcher Neal Barnard, M.D., spotlights foods and nutrients that improve mood, increase memory power and protect your brain from the damaging effects of age. “Most people—including doctors,” he writes, “have never learned about the nutritional steps or exercises that shore up brain function.”We’ve got your list of foods that have been shown to mend the mind, and the specific areas of brain functioning they target, so you can sharpen everything from concentration to agility, and even improve your mood.

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    1. The Omega-3 Effect

    Memory
    A number of nutrients have been shown to improve memory, either by boosting mental energy required for recollection, or protecting the brain from deterioration (such as dementia) that can impair memory.  Elle magazine points to orange juice (with its folic acid), cauliflower (with its citicoline) and berries (with their antioxidants) as memory-boosting power foods. Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, have shown to be  particularly effective in warding off memory loss. According to Elle, “a study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that men and women who ate fish [once a week] had memory functions equivalent to a person three years their junior.”

    Drs. William and James Sears’ “The Omega-3 Effect” looks at how the fatty acid boosts health in the brain, as well as the heart, skin and immune system.

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    2. The Complete Chile Pepper Book

    Concentration
    Peppers are known mainly as flavor-boosters, but their central compound, capsaicin, can benefit the brain as well. According to Rodale.com, “the human brain is actually loaded with receptors for capsaicin, which releases stress-reducing hormones, making it easier for us to focus.” Could this be the reason Hillary Clinton ate chili peppers to keep up with her superhuman schedule as Secretary of State?

    Dave DeWitt and Paul W. Bosland’s “The Complete Chili Pepper Cookbook” offers encyclopedic information about the history, variety and nutritional benefit of peppers, with recipes and instructions on growing your own.

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    3. Roots

    Mental agility
    Deep concentration and high IQ only count for so much in the digital age, which requires us to multitask, speed-read and take in huge volumes of information quickly. There are a number of foods that have been shown to improve our cognitive flexibility. Beets, according to Rodale.com, pack a lot of vitamin B, which “[help] you quickly process data and sort through your memories.” And chocolate contains the compound flavonol, which boosts blood circulation to the brain. Rodale.com points to a study on chocolate in which participants were asked to count backwards in threes: Those who “drank flavonol-fueled hot cocoa calculated more quickly and were less likely to feel tired or mentally drained.”

    Diane Morgan’s “Roots” contains healthy recipes featuring a range of root vegetables, including beets, as with her “Hot Beef Borscht” and “Beet Hash with Spicy Chicken Sausage and Soft-Cooked Eggs.” For a deeper look at chocolate’s brain-boosting potential and other health benefits, look to Cal Orey’s “The Healing Powers of Chocolate.”

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    4. The Happiness Diet

    Mood
    Studies suggests that you can give yourself a mood boost by eating foods that naturally activate releases of serotonin. Fibers from whole-grain food products, according to Woman’s Day, provide Vitamin D, which is vital in the production of serotonin. Foods that contain tryptophan, such as eggs, sunflower seeds and turkey (incidentally, tryptophan is the compound that makes turkey sedating), have also been shown to enhance the release of serotonin.

    In “The Happiness Diet,” wellness expert Tyler Graham and clinical professor Drew Ramsey, M.D., look at a variety of foods that improve mental functions and emotional health.

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