Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain

Add these 'super foods' to your daily diet, and you will increase your odds of maintaining a healthy brain for the rest of your life.

There's no denying that as we age chronologically, our body ages right along with us.  Finding one’s self at great risk for poor mental functioning or degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s can be considered as anyone’s greatest nightmares. We can’t bring back the vigor and mental agility we had during our heydays but we can do something to keep our brain activities intact and well-functioning. Apart from doing active mental exercises, a healthy brain can also be achieved by eating foods that are both simple and brain-friendly. But research is showing that you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain well into your old age if you add these "smart" foods to your daily eating regimen.

According to Steven Pratt, MD, author of Superfoods help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Studies have also shown that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to much younger rats. A cup of blueberries a day in any form -- fresh, frozen, or freeze-dried is also known to improve one’s learning abilities and motor skills so a delectable blueberry dessert must be the perfect choice if you want to harness your brain powers.

Wild Salmon
Deep-water fish, such as salmon, are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, not only good for the heart but for the brain function as well, Our brain neurons are coated with fats and omega-3 fatty acids can provide a good coating to keep the brain activities up and running.  Too much cholesterol only makes our neurons stiffer and our brain’ capacity to store information will be greatly reduced without the good fats. Pratt recommends wild salmon for its "cleanliness" and the fact that it is in plentiful supply. Omega-3s also contain anti-inflammatory substances. Other oily fish that provide the benefits of omega-3s are sardines and herring, recommends a 4-ounce serving, two to three times a week.

Nuts and seeds
If you think that the idea about peanuts being brain foods is a myth, you better believe it now because nuts and seeds have been proven to improve a person’s overall brain functioning.  Nuts and seeds are good sources of vitamin E, says Pratt, explaining that higher levels of vitamin E correspond with less cognitive decline as you get older. Add an ounce a day of walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and unhydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini. Raw or roasted doesn't matter, although if you're on a sodium-restricted diet, buy unsalted nuts. In addition to these, nuts and seeds are also rich sources of Vitamin E, thiamine and magnesium that are all known to keep our brains in tip-top shape. Just be careful with the salt content especially if you’re hypertensive.

Avocados are almost as good as blueberries in promoting brain health, says Pratt.  The avocado is a fatty fruit, but, it's a monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow. "And healthy blood flow means a healthy brain. Avocados also lower blood pressure, says Pratt, and as hypertension is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities, a lower blood pressure should promote brain health.  Moderation (roughly 1/2 serving avocado in a daily meal) is the key to keep avocados from adding to much calories in the body.

Whole grains
Whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole-grain breads, and brown rice can reduce the risk for heart disease. Every organ in the body is dependent on blood flow. If you promote cardiovascular health, you're promoting good flow to the organ system, which includes the brain. Whole wheat, bran, oatmeal and whole grain breads are just some of the healthiest additions to your brain-friendly menu. They contain Vitamin B1 that helps in maintaining brain memory and dietary fiber which naturally decreases cholesterol levels and keep the blood flow towards the brain intact.

Dark chocolate 
Let's end with the good stuff. Dark chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties, contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhance focus and concentration. It also stimulates the production of happy hormones called endorphins so dark chocolates can literally lift up your moods. One-half ounce to 1 ounce a day will provide all the benefits you need.

Freshly brewed tea 
Two to three cups a day of freshly brewed tea -- hot or iced -- contains a modest amount of caffeine which, when used "judiciously," can boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus, and mood. Tea also has potent antioxidants, especially the class known as catechines, which promotes healthy blood flow. Bottled or powdered teas don't do the trick, however, says Kulze. "It has to be freshly brewed.

Dr. Snowden of the Sanders-Brown Aging Center at the University of Kentucky is Director of the famed Nun’s Study. His research found that those with the lowest levels of lycopene in the blood had the highest level of cognitive decline and were four times more likely to need assisted living as those with highest levels. Another study found that men who had the highest levels of lycopene were least likely to suffer from prostate cancer. Tomatoes are the best source of lycopene that is best absorbed when tomatoes are cooked and consumed with a little fat. 10 servings per week may be optimum. 
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