March is National Brain Health Month, so it’s timely to highlight the role some foods play in healthy brain function:
Berries are rich in antioxidants that protect brain cells and improve blood flow, which may help reverse age-related deficits in motor function and working memory. Studies have linked blackberry consumption with improved coordination and balance while eating blueberries has been shown to boost comprehension and memory.
In addition to fighting diseases such as stomach, colon and breast cancer, studies have shown that a compound found in garlic may improve learning, long-term memory and mood by boosting serotonin levels in the brain. Low central serotonin may impair cognitive flexibility, which is integral to abstract and critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Nutrient-rich spinach is packed with vitamins B6, B12 and folate, which enable the release neurotransmitters that drive healthy brain function. A deficiency in B vitamins has been linked to a host of neurological disorders including depression, and folate deficiency has been associated with impaired concentration and memory.
Fish is an excellent source of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, which support a variety of cognitive processes essential for normal brain function. Studies have shown that people who regularly eat foods rich in omega-3s perform better on tests for visual memory, attention and abstract thinking than those who consume less omega-3 in their diet.
New research suggests that curcumin in the spice turmeric may be helpful in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to promote healthy brain function, reduce inflammation, and help regulate blood pressure. One particular omega-3, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is a structural component of brain tissue that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may slow deterioration in the brain.
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Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.