As kids run out the door to play, many a parent has been known to shout, “Remember to eat!” in an effort to keep their kids fueled with energy. But has anyone ever said, “Eat to remember?” Perhaps they should. Some foods can actually protect your memory. The flipside, though? Poor eating habits can actually harm your memory.
So, just what foods should you focus on eating or avoiding to maximize your brain power and memory? In this post, you’ll learn how what you eat may affect your brain, along with specific foods that help increase versus decrease cognitive ability.
How some foods impact your brain
Harvard Health Publications from the Harvard Medical School explains that some research has pointed to a connection between eating high fat foods and poor memory and dementia. Particularly foods high in saturated fats or trans fats, cause your body to increase the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood stream. In case you’re unfamiliar, LDL is the bad type of cholesterol because it damages arteries.
Apparently, new research is beginning to connect eating foods and drinking beverages that are high in fats and cholesterol to poor performance on tests designed to measure memory. Although these findings don’t definitively state that eating a high fat diet leads to worse memory, the Harvard post does say that brain function clearly is diminished when blood vessel damage from a high fat diet leads to a heart attack or stroke.
So what kind of diet should you be eating?
A brain healthy diet
The Mediterranean Diet, known to be good for longevity, may also be an excellent way to eat to protect your brain. The Mediterranean diet consists of foods with omega-3 fatty acids, and promotes eating chicken and fish over red meat. Olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are also a big part of this diet, according to Eatingwell.com.
Science Daily cites research done by the University of Alabama and published in Neurology, in which they reviewed the diets of close to 17,500 study participants to see how closely they approximated the Mediterranean diet. They then tested to measure the memory and cognitive abilities of the participants over a four-year period. It turns out that people who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 19 percent less likely to develop memory problems over the course of the testing period.
But are there any specific foods or beverages linked to better memory or better brain health? Absolutely.
A quick list of memory protecting foods and beverages
WebMD lists blueberries as a top food for taking good care of your brain. They appear to reduce the effects of oxidative stress, protect your brain from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and improve your ability to learn. Avocados similarly keep your brain in good shape. Avocados promote blood flow due to the presence of monounsaturated fats, and lessen the risk of hypertension by lowering your blood pressure. Hypertension is associated with lower cognitive abilities.
WebMD goes on to list other foods that are good for your brain health, like fish, beans, nuts, seeds, pomegranate juice, and tea. It also lists dark chocolate as good for brain health—now you finally have the excuse you always needed to indulge from time to time.
Foods to avoid when taking care of your brain
Women’s Health offers a quick look at foods that can harm your memory and ability to think. In general, foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, like hamburgers and French fries, can harm your brain health. It also lists added sugar as harmful—just one more reason among many to limit your sugar intake. But it calls out added fructose in particular as a sugar that’s been linked to reduced cognitive ability.
The National Institutes of Health says that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can impair your cognitive abilities in the short-term, but can cause longer-term mental deficits, too. While drinking in moderation may actually be linked to some health benefits, according to the Harvard Health Publication listed earlier, that’s a maximum of one glass of wine a day.
Eat for good health in general to promote brain health
It may seem like a no-brainer (pardon the pun), but when you eat a healthy diet, you’re protecting all of your body—brain included. So get enough sleep, because that’s clearly associated with good brain function and memory, and focus on eating well. And if you forget things every now and then? Well, you’re just human—we all do.