Super foods are packed with nutrients that have health-enhancing properties ranging from prevention of heart disease and cancer to improving skin tone and boosting memory and brain function. Their health benefits may be overstated but they do provide the recommended nutrients when included as part of balanced diet. Here are 10 super foods that help boost brain function and improve memory.
Milk is rich in vitamin B6, vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium and potassium – all of which are necessary for improving memory and cognitive functions. But what is especially beneficial to brain health is the milk protein, especially cow milk protein. The cow milk protein is made up of 20 percent whey protein and 80 percent casein protein. The whey protein is a mixture of alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin and serum albumin. A research study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that dietary protein rich in alpha-lactalbumin (cow milk protein in this case) improves cognitive performance in stress-vulnerable people by increasing brain serotonin activity levels.
Spinach is a superfood that became popular among children because of the cartoon character Popeye who gulped down tins of spinach to give him strength. Spinach is also very high in magnesium (39.1% DV) and potassium (24% DV) content which maintains the electrical conductivity of brain that affects the higher brain function like memory and learning. It is high in vitamins B6 and E, and folate content. Deficiency of folate may cause cognitive decline, including Alzheimer's disease, according to D'Anci and Rosenberg.
Acorn squash also called the winter squash, is a species of the Cucurbita family which also includes pumpkins and zucchini. This vegetable reportedly helps prevent spikes in blood sugar and even cancer. The folic acid in acorn squash (and kidney beans and black eyed beans as well) combined with vitamin B12 helps prevent nerve damage and brain shrinkage. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, folic acid plays an important part in the development of fetus' spinal cord and brain. Deficiency of folic acid can cause birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.
Potato may seem to be the least likely food for improving memory or brain function, but in fact the baked potato with flesh and skin and without salt is a very healthy, low calorie, high fiber food. It is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese – all of which are beneficial to brain health. 100g of baked potato supplies 16 percent DV (daily value) each of vitamin C and vitamin B6, 15 percent DV of potassium and 11 percent DV of manganese. Vitamin B6 plays an important role in the production of serotonin (lack of which is linked to depression), melatonin (hormone for a good night's sleep) and GABA (needed for normal brain function).
Broccoli, a cruciferous vegetable from the cabbage family, is a super food because scientists have found that it can protect the brain following injury. Broccoli contains a chemical called sulforaphane that helps strengthen the protective network of capillaries called the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB is a semi-permeable lining made of tiny capillaries; it protects the brain from 'foreign substances' which may injure the brain. The BBB also maintains a constant environment for the brain.
Wheat germ and most whole grains are rich in B-complex vitamins that promote brain health by protecting nerve tissue against oxidation. B- group vitamins also help by enhancing memory and preventing stroke. Researchers have discovered that the high levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in the body can cause strokes. Homocysteine is created by the metabolism of an essential amino acid called methionine that is obtained from animal protein. Folic acid and B-vitamins break down homocysteine in the bloodstream and convert them back to methionine, thus reducing the chances of a stroke.
Mango is rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6 and vitamins K, A and E. Fruits like mangoes and banana are high in vitamin B6 content and are therefore good for brain health. It is erroneously believed that mango is a food source of amino acid glutamine which is involved in the production of DNA and is also responsible for determining mood and changes in sleep pattern. Glutamine is synthesized by the body from another amino acid glutamic acid with the help of vitamin B6. It is not found in food.
Honey is the oldest natural sweetener known to man. Honey is made up of equal parts of glucose and fructose and it contains a variety of B-vitamins, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and anti-oxidants – all of which are good for brain health. The fructose in honey fuels the brain, which is the most energy demanding organ in the body. Thus, honey protects the brain from mental exhaustion and keeps the brain perked up.
Pink Salmon is a fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids or more specifically high in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) content. The American Heart Association recommends a daily supplement of 1000mg of DHA + EPA for people who have heart disease and consumption of fatty fish like salmon at least twice a week for healthy people. Although, omega-3 (DHA) has been proven to benefit the heart, recent researches have shown that DHA may also benefit people who are prone to Alzheimer's disease, i.e. DHA can prevent the onset of Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, DHA does not seem to benefit people who already have Alzheimer's. Large-scale studies are required to establish the exact role of fish in memory and other brain functions.
Water makes up 85 percent of the brain weight. So, it is but natural that lack of water can lead to brain shrinkage. Researches have shown that dehydration not only shrinks the brain tissues but also adversely affects concentration and memory. So, how much water is required by the body every day? Drink water according to your body weight. Dividing your weight in kilograms by 30 gives the amount of water in liters a day. For example, if you weigh 75 kg, drink (75/30= 2.5) 2.5 liters of water spread out over a day.
So, why not take diet supplements and pills for brain power instead of super foods? That's because, eating is a pleasure but swallowing pills is … yuck! Opt for safe, easily absorbed, natural food sources for your general well being and also to boost your brain power.
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