You complete crossword puzzles daily; you relish stimulating novels; you’re constantly picking up new, invigorating hobbies. When it comes to keeping your mind sharp, you think you’ve got it down pat. But if you’re neglecting your diet on a daily basis, you might be sabotaging your brain-saving efforts more than you realize.
Diet and brain function are fundamentally intertwined, research suggests. Eating the right foods protects your noggin in a number of ways—by warding off mental illness to protecting memory to deterring cognitive decline. To up the odds that your brain will stay active and healthy as you age, stock up on these smart food picks. We can’t guarantee that you won’t experience the inevitable “senior moment” here or there, but these 5 brain foods, which are rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, will certainly help keep your mind sharp.
Blueberries. To boost brainpower, binge on blueberries. In a compelling study out of Tufts University, researchers found that a diet rich in blueberry extract improved short-term memory loss and reversed some loss of balance and coordination in aging rats. These little berries are bursting with beneficial anti-inflammatory antioxidants, which keeps mental decline at bay by reducing inflammation in the brain.
Walnuts. It’s only fitting that walnuts are shaped like the human brain—this wrinkly, double-lobed nut is a wonder food for the brain. Walnuts are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that has been linked with slowing cognitive decline. Munch on a handful of walnuts for a satisfying snack, or sprinkle a few on salads or oatmeal.
Salmon. This fatty fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have been shown to improve cognitive function. In a 2014 study out of University of South Dakota, researchers tested the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the red blood cells of over 1,000 women and found that those with higher levels of EPA and DHA in their blood had larger brain volumes and larger hippocampuses than other women. Although preliminary, the study suggests that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may preserve memory by preventing shrinkage in the brain and hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory.
Kale. This trendy salad green can put the brakes on age-related memory decline. Dark leafy greens—such as kale—are excellent sources of folate, or vitamin B9, which is necessary for proper brain functioning and also plays a key role in mental and emotional health. For example, a study published in 2004 Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care found that cognitive decline and some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, are associated with lower folate levels.
Avocado. This rich, creamy fruit is a brain-saver thanks to its high content of oleic acid, a healthy fat compound that nourishes and supports the myelin in the brain. Myelin—the protective sheath-like material that insulates and protects nerve fibers in the central nervous system—is essential for proper brain function. Because the myelin sheath is composed mainly of fatty acids, eating foods rich in oleic acids—such as avocados—helps keep the myelin sheath healthy and full of nutrients.