Article at a glance
- While you should be wary of some of the hype around superfoods, some nutrients have been found to have profound health benefits to our brain and body.
- Curcumin, green tea catechins, resveratrol, and Omega-3 fatty acids are all nutrients that have been clinically proven to support our cognitive structure and function.
- Our brains might be tiny, but they are mighty and consume 20% of the energy that we get from food, so feed them right.
The concept of superfoods has become popular in recent years and the media have taken full advantage of this. Although you shouldn’t believe all the hype, some nutrient-dense foods can provide incredible health benefits and are likely already in your kitchen.
While many people choose foods to keep their bodies healthy, you can also choose foods that can keep your brain sharp. The brain might only comprise 2% of total body weight, but it consumes 20% of the energy that we get from food. Many people don’t realize the effects that food can have on our cognition, so let’s talk about a few foods that are super for our neuroplasticity.
Curcumin, a component of yellow curry spice, has been used historically for its anti-inflammatory purposes. More recently, it has gained attention for its effects on neuroplasticity. Research has demonstrated that curcumin has neuroprotective effects against aging-related memory decline by restoring the age-related loss of communication pathways between neural cells. In fact, even in cognitively healthy adults, curcumin has been shown to significantly improve performance in attention and working memory, mood, and alertness in human trials.
Tea time for our friends across the pond might do more for their brain than for their bellies as the catechin polyphenols found in tea are potent antioxidants and are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Among these catechins, EGCG found in high amounts in green tea, has been found to have neuroprotective functions and influences mechanisms involved in learning and cognitive decline. Human studies have observed a lower prevalence of cognitive impairment with higher consumption of green tea and enhanced cognitive function as soon as 30 min post green tea consumption.
Another plant-based compound, resveratrol, which is found in grapes, wine, and peanuts, has demonstrated neuroprotective benefits by increasing cell survival and slowing aging by increasing DNA stability. One study demonstrated that twelve weeks of grape juice supplementation in older adults with memory decline resulted in significantly improved measures of verbal learning. Even more so, outcomes show that resveratrol can be effective for improving mood and overall cognitive function.
This final brain boosting nutrient can also be found in plants and is vitally involved in neural physiology. Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, play an essential role in maintaining the structural balance of cell membranes and supporting signaling between neurons. Omega-3 deficiencies have been shown to lead to reductions in neuron size and have adverse cognitive effects. Inversely, studies have found a positive correlation between Omega-3 intake and grey matter volume in the brain, a 47% lower risk for all-cause dementia, and improved working memory performance.
Even though an effective treatment for age-related cognitive decline has not yet been found, progress has been made in a better understanding of how diet can influence our brain structure and function. Ensuring adequate amounts of these brain-boosting superfoods in the diet is one tasty way to protect cognitive function and brain health as we age.
What have you done for your brain today?