Food For Thought: 10 Foods To Increase Your Brain Function

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 11:58am

By Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN

Eating a healthful diet has always been wise. But can certain foods, drinks, and supplements actually make you smarter? In other words, is the concept of "brain food" factual or just hype? Recent studies have shown that nutrients may have significantly positive effects on the brain. In fact, some foods can maximize your brain's potential and remove obstacles to optimal functioning and disease.

How the brain uses nutrients

The brain uses carbohydrates for energy and omega-3 fatty acids for forming its cell structure. B vitamins play an essential role in brain function. In combination with folic acid, vitamins B6 and vitamin B12 help manufacture and release chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. The nervous system relies on neurotransmitters to communicate messages within the brain, such as those that regulate mood, hunger, and sleep. In addition, foods rich in antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C and vitamin E and beta-carotene, help protect brain cells from free-radical damage caused by environmental pollution. Protection against free radicals is important to protecting the brain well into the golden years.

1.   Egg yolks for your brain function

A healthy benefit of egg yolks is that they contribute choline to the diet. Choline is a component of two fat-like molecules in the brain that are responsible for brain function and health. A choline deficiency may contribute to age-related mental decline and Alzheimer's disease.

2.   Spinach protects the brain from age-related problems

Spinach helps protect the brain from oxidative stress while reducing the risk of suffering from an age-related decline in function. Researchers found that feeding aging rats spinach-rich diets significantly improved their learning capacity and motor skills. Including spinach in your diet may lessen brain damage from strokes and neurological disorders.

3.   Yellowfin Tuna protects against Alzheimer's

A cold-water fish, yellowfin tuna is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. This is important if we remember that structurally, the brain is made up of 60% fat. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids keeps cells' membranes flexible and maximizes their ability to allow important nutrients in. Yellowfin tuna is rich in the B vitamin niacin, which also protects the brain against Alzheimer's disease.

4.   Cranberries for improvements in memory, balance and coordination

Animal studies suggest that cranberries protect brain cells from free-radical damage. Moreover, consumption of this tart fruit is associated with improvements in memory, balance and coordination.

5.   Sweet potatoes provide nourishment for the brain

Sweet potatoes are especially brain-nourishing. They are rich in vitamin B6 (necessary for manufacturing a certain kind of neurotransmitters), as well as carbohydrates (the only fuel source the brain uses) and antioxidant nutrients (vitamin C and beta-carotene).

6.   Strawberries reduce the risk of age-related brain decline

Strawberries help protect the brain while reducing the risk of developing age-related brain function decline. Just half a cup provides 70% of the Recommended Daily Value (RDV) for vitamin C. Research studies have shown that strawberry eaters may have a higher learning capacity and better motor skills than non-strawberry eaters.

7.   Kidney beans to improve your cognitive function

One cup of cooked kidney beans contains almost 19% of the RDV for the B-vitamin thiamin. Thiamin is critical for cognitive function because it is needed to synthesize choline. Kidney beans are rich in inositol (part of the B-complex vitamin family). Inositol may improve symptoms of depression and mood disorders.

8.   Raisin bran to prevent migraines and headaches

Raisin bran provides carbohydrates, iron, B vitamins, folic acid, calcium and magnesium. These are all important nutrients for brain fuel, as well as health and vitality. In addition, magnesium is a mineral that helps relax blood vessels, preventing the constriction and dilation characteristic of migraine and tension headaches. Increased intake of magnesium has been shown to reduce episodes of these types of headaches.

9.   Lamb Loin aids concentration and mental performance

Lamb loin is eaten less in the United States than almost any other country in the world. This is unfortunate because it is rich in vitamin B12 and iron. Iron is important for brain health because a deficiency can impair concentration and mental performance.

10.   Wheat germ is good for the brain

Wheat germ is a powerful brain food because it is rich in vitamin E and selenium (both very potent antioxidant nutrients), as well as choline and magnesium.

Another good source of choline is peanuts.

Other good sources are flaxseeds and olive oil.