They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but when it comes to the brain, scientists have discovered that this old adage is simply not true. The human brain has an amazing ability to adapt and change – even in old age. This ability is known as “neuroplasticity.” With the right stimulation, your brain can form new nerve pathways, change existing connections, adapt and interact in ever-changing ways.
The brain’s amazing ability to remake itself is true when it comes to learning and memory. You can harness the natural power of neuroplasticity to increase your cognitive capabilities, enhance your ability to learn new information, and improve your memory at any age.
Just as the body needs fuel, so does the brain. You probably already know that a diet based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, “healthy” fats (such as olive oil, nuts, and fish) and lean protein will provide many health benefits, but such a diet can also improve memory. But as for brain health, it’s not just about what you eat – it’s also what you don’t. The following dietary tips will help you boost your mental capacity and reduce your risk of developing dementia:
Get omega-3 Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids are especially beneficial for brain health. Fish is an especially rich source of omega-3, especially “fatty fish” in cold water such as salmon, tuna, halibut, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring.
If you’re not a fan of seafood, consider non-fish sources of omega-3 acids such as walnuts, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, winter squash, beans, spinach, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, and soybeans.
Limit calories and saturated fats Research indicates that diets high in saturated fats (from sources such as red meat, whole milk, butter, cheese, cream, and ice cream) increase the risk of developing dementia, impaired concentration and memory.
Eat more fruits and vegetables The products are full of antioxidants, substances that protect brain cells from damage. Colorful fruits and vegetables are good sources of the “superfood” antioxidants.
Drink green tea Green tea contains polyphenols and powerful antioxidants that protect against free radicals that can destroy brain cells. Among the many other benefits, regular consumption of green tea may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging.
Drink wine (or grape juice) in moderation Maintaining alcohol consumption is essential, as alcohol kills brain cells. But in moderation (about one cup per day for women; two cups for men), alcohol might actually improve memory and cognition. Red wine appears to be the best option, as it is rich in resveratrol, a flavonoid that boosts blood flow in the brain and reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Other options filled with resveratrol include grape juice, cranberry juice, fresh grapes, berries, and peanuts.
For mental energy, choose complex carbohydrates Just as car racing needs gas, your brain needs fuel to perform at its best. When you need to be on top of your mental performance, carbohydrates can keep you going. But the type of carbohydrates you choose makes the difference. Carbohydrates feed your brain, but simple carbs (sugar, white bread, refined grains) give a quick boost followed by an equally fast breakdown. There is also evidence to suggest that diets rich in simple carbohydrates can significantly increase the risk of cognitive impairment in older adults. For healthy, lasting energy, choose complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, high-fiber cereals, lentils, and whole beans. Avoid processed foods and limit starches (potatoes, pasta, and rice) to no more than a quarter of your plate.
When you think of food, you probably think of this scary four-letter word: DIET. Or maybe you think of fuel for your body … or a source of happiness (or frustration!) In your life. What you probably don’t think about is the powerful influence that affects your emotions, your personality, the quality and quantity of your memories, and even who you are as a person. But surprisingly, what you eat directly affects all of the above. This may sound hard to believe, but it is true. Let me explain …
Your Brain: A Calorie-Hungry Machine
Your brain accounts for only 2–4% of your total body mass, which is roughly 2–4 pounds for the average person. However, your brain also consumes about 20% of all energy from your food. I’ll say it again: Your brain consumes 20% of the nutritional energy you consume. Additionally, the type of fuel you give your brain through food and supplements has a critical effect on how you think, feel, and experience your life. You – and your entire human experience – are actually what you eat. As Dr. Fattouhi said: “What you eat will reshape your mind … for better or worse.” So, again, we need to put our brains first when it comes to improving our health and happiness.
What nutrients does my brain need … and how much? There are certain nutrients that your brain absolutely needs, some that you can take in higher doses to increase performance … and some nutrients that your body does not want at all. Let’s start with what your brain needs every day: fuel. For cells to function properly and continuously, your brain needs the energy you get from food. This is a no-brainer (ha-ha, pun intended). However, if you are on a severely restricted calorie diet, you are not only restricting the fuel you give your body but also the fuel you give your brain. Why is this dangerous? Although your intentions may be in the right place, you may effectively starve your mind, resulting in brain fog, mood swings, anxiety, slower and more difficult learning, feelings of lack of motivation, etc., and most seriously, malnutrition over long periods can Your mind shrinks physically. Calorie restriction diets aren’t the best way.
Let’s say you follow a strict calorie-restricted diet, which limits you to 70% of the actual calories you (and your mind) need in a typical day. This means that you don’t get the 30% of the vitamins, minerals and energy you just need to function at baseline … which equates to about 6% of your brain’s direct malnutrition.
Starving your mind makes you angry, short-tempered, bored, and emotional. And honestly, you will never reach your goal. Do you know where the willpower to stick to a healthy exercise comes from? It comes from feeding your brain the right fuel in the right amounts to stay strong.
I want to focus for a moment on one killer that’s so dangerous to your mind: sugar. WebMD asks the question: “Is sugar worse for you than cocaine?” When up to 80% of all food that we can buy at the grocery store contains sugar, it can seem like a losing battle.
Not only has sugar been shown to be highly addictive – meaning that the more food you eat, the more you want to eat more – we have found that over time, sugar can contribute to the contraction of the hippocampus (the memory sector in your brain), which is a hallmark of memory problems.
How does sugar affect your memory? Research from the University of California, Los Angeles, indicates that sugar forms free radicals in the brain and impairs neurons’ ability to communicate. This could have dangerous repercussions in how we remember instructions, process thoughts, and manage mood, says Fernando Gómez-Pinella, Ph.D., author of the University of California study. In the short term, you may have seen how sugar can mess up your emotions and adrenaline rush, also known as: the stress hormone. So there’s something to keep in mind: Your memory issues may not be age related. It might be what you eat. What happens when you eat sugar?
When you eat sugar, your insulin rises, which briefly increases your dopamine levels. (Think of dopamine as a “happy chemical.”) For a while, you feel happy and energetic … maybe you are a little excessive.
But this rise rapidly fades (i.e. not a stable source of energy), and eventually it collapses. The familiar “sugar crash” produces the chemical adrenaline, which can leave you feeling anxious, moody, tired and even depressed in the aftermath.
The USDA recommends staying under 10 teaspoons (40 grams) of added sugar daily. This is roughly equivalent to a cake or one cup of nonfat yogurt – which tends to be surprisingly high in sugar. (Check the label for yogurt in your fridge and see what I mean.) Now don’t worry: This daily sugar limit does not include natural fruits and plant sugars in their pure forms like apples. But avoid that mocha latte at all costs.
Personally, I think that sugar is the real reason why gluten-free diets tend to work well for many people in terms of improving overall body and brain health. Not because they remove gluten. (Only 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease, in which case the body cannot tolerate gluten.) I think the reason for this is that most foods containing gluten also contain a lot of added sugar: bread, baked goods, etc. Removing the sugars alone can have a huge impact on your mood, memory, and clarity of your thinking.
We also know despite countless studies that obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes can reduce the size and performance of your brain. So if you want to reduce your risk of memory loss, the first and quickest thing you can do is educate yourself about brain-healthy foods versus brain-shrinking foods – and remove dangerous foods instantly from your diet.
What are the worst foods for your memory and perception?
Salt can be a significant culprit, mainly due to overeating. Salt is an essential mineral we need for survival, but the USDA recommendation is only 1,500 mg per day. The average American eats 3,400 mg / day, mainly because our culture tends to consume a lot of processed and packaged foods. These are the worst when it comes to extremely unhealthy doses of salt – which, incidentally, also increases your risk of stroke.
Trans fats are also dangerous to brain health. The typical trans fats are often found in fried foods, margarines, margarines, non-dairy bleachers, ice cream, cake mixes, microwave popcorn, beef, frozen dinners, biscuits and crackers.
The best foods for your brain
To boost your memory, mood and awareness, you want to focus on a “brain-healthy” diet. This includes eating foods that support the growth of new brain cells, as well as eating a high-quality nutritional supplement with adequate amounts of specific nutrients, to give your brain the building blocks it needs to stay sharp. One of these nutrients is called DHA, which is found in omega-3 fatty acids, which helps reduce inflammation in the brain. Several researchers have found that people with behavioral problems, children with ADHD and people with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of normal DHA.
For example, in Gothenburg, Sweden, scientists conducted a study of more than 9,000 students. And they found that children who ate one serving of fish per week (a great source of DHA) achieved 15% better results than students who ate less than one serving of fish per week. I recommend you get 1,000 mg of DHA daily through your food and / or supplement.
The best diets for memory and learning
As a holistic eating style filled with healthy brain foods, most scientists recommend the Mediterranean diet as a great plan to give your body and mind the best quality foods, even if you are trying to lose weight. For more advice, I highly recommend you follow trusted food gurus like Mike Jerry, aka “The Nutrition Watchdog”. Need motivation? Here’s a fun fact: Those who eat a healthy diet combined with exercise have a 65% lower chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Here is a good list of delicious foods that are good for brain health: Olive oil, garlic, peas, berries, green tea, kale, nuts and seeds, fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, black currant, broccoli, sage, and eggs.
All of these foods are great for children and adults. To study, improve memory and feel good everywhere.