Having a healthy brain not only means having better memory and focus, it means being able to function at a higher level and maximize your potential. It also means maintaining good cognitive functioning into old age.

Here are 6 foods that will give your brain a boost, and 1 to avoid:

1. Green, Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy veggies such as broccoli, spinach, collard greens, and kale are full of brain-healthy nutrients like folate, beta carotene, lutein, and vitamin K. These not only boost your brain power day-to-day, but research also shows that they may slow the cognitive decline that comes with ageing.

2. Healthy, Unsaturated Fats

While research indicates saturated and trans fats that raise LDL cholesterol are bad for cognition because they decrease blood flow and may increase the formation of dementia-causing amyloid-beta plaques, unsaturated fats can actively improve cognition. Olive oil, in particular, has been shown to protect learning and memory and reduce the formation of plaques as well as neurofibrillary tangles in the brain (a classic marker of Alzheimer’s). Olive oil does this by activating autophagy, the process by which the brain breaks down and clears out toxins and cellular debris. 

3. Fatty Fish

Fatty Fish like salmon are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are not only good for cardiovascular health but also improve cognition and protect the brain from decline by lowering levels of beta-amyloid in the blood, which prevents the formation of the beta-amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer’s Disease. Experts recommend eating fish at least 2 times a week but look for varieties shown to be lower in mercury, such as salmon, canned light tuna, pollack, and cod. Omega-3s can also be found in plant foods like avocados, flaxseeds, and walnuts.

4. Walnuts

Speaking of walnuts, although all nuts provide healthy fats and protein, eating walnuts has been shown to actually improve scores on cognitive tests. Walnuts are rich in the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which protects arteries, lowers blood pressure, and enhances brain plasticity, which can help reduce depression and assist in healing after ischemic stroke.  

5. Berries

Berries get their beautiful colours from flavonoids, which are natural pigments that also improve memory. Berries are also rich in antioxidants, which prevent cellular damage from free radicals. A study from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women who ate two or more servings of berries a week slowed cognitive decline by up to 2.5 years. Researchers found that berries change neuronal communication in ways that prevent brain inflammation and improve cognition.

6. Tea and Coffee

A 2014 Johns Hopkins University study discovered that compared with participants taking a placebo, participants taking a 200-mg caffeine tablet scored better on cognitive tests. You’ll boost your brain health even more by drinking your caffeine in coffee or tea rather than taking a pill, as these drinks contain antioxidants that fight free radicals—just be sure not to overdo it, as overconsumption of caffeine is bad for both brain and body health. 

And one more to avoid: Alcohol

The research on alcohol and whether it is good or bad for the brain and body are mixed. Some studies indicate that mild to moderate alcohol consumption may be good for you, while others say any degree of consumption has a negative impact on health. What is known for sure is that excessive alcohol consumption results in a wide variety of health problems like depression and anxiety, high blood pressure, heart irregularities, and other cardiovascular problems, all of which lead to cognitive difficulties and cognitive decline. Alcohol addiction can even directly cause brain damage that may or may not heal with professional treatment.

More Reasons to Feed Your Brain

Keeping your brain healthy is not just about high cognitive functioning—a healthy brain means better motor control, a healthier nervous system, more energy, and less risk of substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders.

In short, a healthier brain will give you a better quality of life.

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