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By Mayo Clinic Health System staff
What is the best recipe for maximizing memory? Research suggests following an eating plan that provides a healthier selection of dietary fats and an array of plant foods rich in phytonutrients. There still is a lot to learn about what makes a brain-healthy diet. However, for now, the best bet for rich memories is forgoing unhealthy fat and remembering to diversify your plant portfolio.
Foods that boost memory
Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, fish, healthier fats and herbs or seeds provide brain-boosting memory function, and include:
- Berries are antioxidant powerhouses that can protect the brain from oxidative damage, preventing premature aging and memory-impairing dementia. Blueberries are a particularly rich source of anthocyanin and other flavonoids that may improve brain function.
- Grapes are full of resveratrol, a memory-boosting compound. Concord grapes are rich in polyphenols, a brain-accessing antioxidant.
- Watermelon has a high concentration of lycopene, which is another powerful antioxidant. It’s also a good source of pure water, which is beneficial to brain health, as even a mild case of dehydration can reduce mental energy, impairing memory.
- Avocado is a fruit rich in monounsaturated fat, which improves memory function by helping improve blood cholesterol levels when consumed in moderation in place of saturated fats.
- Beets are rich in nitrates, which are natural compounds that can dilate blood vessels to allow more oxygenated blood to reach the brain.
- Dark, leafy greens are known for their disease-fighting antioxidants, such as vitamin C, and have been shown to reduce age-related memory loss. Greens also are rich in folate, which can improve memory by decreasing inflammation and improving blood circulation to the brain.
Whole grains and legumes
- Cracked wheat, whole-grain couscous, chickpeas and lentils are examples of complex carbohydrates. Since brain cells run on glucose derived from carbohydrates and don’t store excess, they need a steady supply of glucose. Complex carbohydrates are a preferred brain food, as they provide a slow, sustained supply of glucose. They take longer to metabolize and also are high in folate, the memory-boosting B vitamin.
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers, are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These have been shown to improve memory when eaten one to two times per week. It’s best to eat these in moderation, as fish consumption can increase cholesterol.
- Shellfish and crustaceans, such as oysters, mussels, clams, crayfish, shrimp and lobster, are good sources of vitamin B-12, a nutrient involved in preventing memory loss. These tend to be high in cholesterol, so moderation is important.
- Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels when used in place of saturated or transfat. Extra-virgin is the least processed oil containing the highest levels of protective antioxidant compounds.
- Nuts, like the walnut, are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which lowers triglycerides, improves vascular health, helps moderate blood pressure and decreases blood clotting.
Herbs or seeds
- Cocoa seeds are a rich source of flavonoid antioxidants, which are especially important in preventing damage from LDL cholesterol and protecting arterial lining, as well as preventing blood clots. Cocoa also contains arginine, a compound that increases blood vessel dilation. A recent study conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School found that seniors who drank two cups of cocoa daily for a month had improved blood flow to the brain and performed better on memory tests.
- Rosemary and mint are in the same herb family. Rosemary has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, improving concentration and memory. Peppermint aroma has been found to enhance memory.
- Sesame seeds are a rich source of the amino acid tyrosine, which is used to produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for keeping the brain alert and memory sharp. Sesame seeds also are rich in zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6, other nutrients involved in memory function.
- Saffron has been shown in recent studies to have a positive effect in individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Those who took saffron capsules for 16 weeks presented significantly better cognitive function on average than patients on a placebo.