By Nancy Christie
When it comes to what we eat, we usually worry more about our waistlines than our wisdom. But a diet that contains a wide assortment of healthy foods and nutrients doesn’t just benefit your body; it may protect your brain from cognitive decline as you age. In order to defend against a variety of age-related conditions that can impair your memory and the general functioning of your brain, a good first step is to concentrate on incorporating three nutrients into your diet: omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids and vitamin E.
Because the body cannot manufacture omega-3 fatty acids, it needs to absorb them from food sources. Fish are one of the best sources of omega-3s, but try toavoid fish that are high in mercury and other heavy metals, such as swordfish and bluefish. Not a fan of seafood? There are many other non-fish foods that contain this brain protector.
- Oily cold-water fish: herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, halibut and trout
- Leafy greens: Brussels sprouts, spinach, arugula, mint, kale and watercress
- Oils: flaxseed oil, canola oil, cod liver oil, soybean oil and mustard oil
Antioxidants and Brain Health
As your brain ages, it is more difficult for important nerve cells to protect themselves against highly reactive, rogue compounds called free radicals. Every cell in your body manufactures thousands of these unstable oxygen molecules every day and you are also exposed to them in the world around you through tobacco smoke, pollution and even ultraviolet radiation. Left unchecked, free radicals damage cells (a process called oxidative stress), which contributes to age-related degenerative diseases, including mental decline. Fortunately, the body has a natural defense system to protect itself against oxidative stress: antioxidants. These substances, which help shield the body from the destruction of free radicals, include well-known nutrients such as vitamin C, beta-carotene and selenium. Although researchers go back and forth on exactly how beneficial eating antioxidants can be for the body and brain, there are two antioxidants that appear particularly promising when it comes to brain health: flavonoids and vitamin E.
- Berries: blueberries, strawberries and blackberries
- Leafy greens: spinach, kale and watercress
- Other colorful produce: butternut squash, avocados, plums and red grapes
- Dark chocolate
- Red wine
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, pecans, peanut butter, peanuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts and sunflower seeds
- Oils: wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil
- Leafy greens: spinach, dandelion greens, swiss chard and turnip greens
The Bottom Line on Brain Food
While no one has found a way to return aging brains to their youthful ability just yet, it is possible to strengthen your brain's ability to protect important neurons from degeneration or death. This is best accomplished when you make smart lifestyle choices. It's a good idea to avoid excess alcohol and nicotine use, and you can best help your brain stay sharp by following a healthful diet that's low in fat and cholesterol and loaded with fruits, vegetables, oils and fish.
Sarah McNaughton also contributed to this report.
3 Key Nutrients For Brain Health originally appeared on Everyday Health.