10 Foods That Improve Memory
Diet is important to health. The foods that improve health are generally natural, unprocessed foods. These include fruits, grains, nuts, vegetables and fish. Memory can also be enhanced by food. Discussed in this article are the 10 most important classes of foods to help improve memory.
Some foods are just as good as herbs. In fact, some plants have both culinary and medicinal uses.
The best foods for memory are those that contain phytochemicals that can help rebuild nerves and replenish neurotransmitters in the brain. Some of these foods may also contain active ingredients to help protect brain cells from damage and some of them increase blood flow to the brain.
All of the best foods for memory also improve general health.
However, these foods should supplement the primary treatment used in treating cognitive decline and improving memory and learning. Therefore, it is best to adopt these foods into regular diet rather than regard them as temporary dietary changes.
Whole grain cereal contains cereal germ, endosperm and bran unlike refined grains which only contain endosperm. The extra layers in whole grains contain rich stores of B vitamins as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Whole grains also have a lot of other benefits over refined grains. They are rich in antioxidants. They lower fasting insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity. They reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.
For these reasons, whole grains can reduce the risk of type II diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
Whole grains have been proven to improve memory too. In one study, whole grains increased the levels of B vitamins such as folic acid enough to enhance memory in a group of women.
Another study done by researchers from Columbia University Medical Center showed that whole grain diet reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
Oily fish are important brain foods. Oily fish include salmon, sardine, mackerel, tuna, halibut and cod.
These are fatty fish with high concentrations of oils. However, the most important components of oily fish are omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Of the two, DHA is the more important omega-3 fatty acids for enhancing memory and improving cognitive function. A number of studies have established that the DHA in oily fish can improve working memory and speed of working memory.
Oily fish are also beneficial for Alzheimer patients. The active ingredients in these fish can prevent the formation of plaques by breaking down beta amyloid proteins in the brain.
Besides DHA, oily fish are also a great source of vitamins A and D as well as antioxidants such as selenium.
Antioxidants prevent the oil in these fish from going bad. When consumed, the antioxidants help remove reactive oxygen species and free radicals that may otherwise damage brain cells.
Where oily fish cannot be obtained, fish oil and omega-3 supplements are excellent substitutes.
Both cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli etc.) and green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, Spanish chard, collard, mustard greens etc.) are excellent brain foods.
The definitive study on the benefit of vegetables for memory was done at Harvard Medical School. It took 25 years and involved over 13,000 women. This study showed that vegetables slowed down and, in some cases, reversed age-related memory loss and cognitive decline.
Antioxidants present in these vegetables include vitamin E, anthocyanin and quercetin.
Anthocyanin has been demonstrated to play a neuroprotective role in the brain. Besides serving as an antioxidant, anthocyanin improves memory because it is also a MAO inhibitor.
MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors block the breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine. Because acetylcholine is required for memory consolidation, MAO inhibitors such as anthocyanin increase acetylcholine activity and so enhance memory and learning.
Vegetables are also rich in folic acid which helps reduce the levels of homocysteine, a neurotoxic and cardiotoxic metabolite that folic acid converts to methionine, a safe and needed amino acid.
Berries are fleshy fruits and they are superstores of essential nutrients.
The very phytochemicals responsible for the varied colors of berries are also the medicinal agents in them. Therefore, the skins of berries are the most healthful parts of the fruits.
These natural plant pigments are antioxidant polyphenols such as flavonoids and anthocyanins.
Researchers from Tufts University found out that blueberries were able to improve short term memory loss in a group of patients. Besides blueberries, strawberries and acai berries were also shown to reduce memory loss and cognitive decline related to aging.
Tomato is another berry that improves memory. The lycopene in tomato is a powerful antioxidant capable of protecting the brain from toxins that trigger dementia and neurodegenerative diseases.
Currants, especially black currant, are also beneficial for the same reason. However, the potent antioxidant in currants is vitamin C.
Besides berries, other fruits have their benefits. For example, apple is a rich source of quercetin while citruses are known for their vitamin C stores. The antioxidants present in fruits protect brain cells from the harm caused by free radicals while reducing oxidative stress on the memory seats of the brain such as the hippocampus.
Nuts are essentially hard-shelled fruits. The nutritional benefits of nuts make them especially good for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. They can lower LDL cholesterol levels and because of their low glycemic indices, they are high recommended for patients with type II diabetes.
Nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which have neuroprotective roles and can help improve memory.
Other fatty acids found in nuts are linoleic and linolenic acids. Nuts are also a rich source of natural nutritional antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium. Other micronutrients found in nuts are vitamin B2, folic acid, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and copper.
Of these micronutrients, vitamin E and folic acid have been demonstrated in a number of clinical studies to prevent memory loss and enhance working memory.
Eggs are important sources of essential nutrients especially amino acids.
All the essential amino acids are present in egg. It also contains vitamins A, D, E, B2, B6, B9 and B12 as well as iron, potassium, calcium and phosphorus.
Egg is also known to be a good source of choline, the direct precursor of acetylcholine. Therefore, regular consumption of eggs can help increase acetylcholine levels in the brain, a positive outcome for improving memory consolidation.
Choline is especially recommended for pregnant women and lactating mothers because it is used to produced other essential compounds required to fuel the rapid brain development that occurs in fetuses and infants.
Eggplant is a plant in the Nightshade family. Although it is not an egg but a plant, it does share some of the essential micronutrients of eggs. These include the B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorus.
Other nutrients found in eggplants that may help improve memory include vitamin C and zinc.
Green tea is prepared from the leaves of Camellia sinensis which have undergone only a little oxidation during processing.
This tea is perhaps the richest source of natural, dietary antioxidants. It contains vitamin antioxidants such as vitamins C and E as well as mineral antioxidants such as selenium. However, the most important antioxidant in green tea is EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate.
EGCG is a polyphenol catechins and the subject of many studies into the health benefits of green tea.
Besides the antioxidant protection that EGCG provides for brain cells, it triggers neurogenesis in the brain but especially in the hippocampus.
By promoting neurogenesis, EGCG speeds the rate at which new brain cells appear. In this way, it can improve brain capacity and enhance memory as well as quicken the regeneration of damaged brain cells.
Some of the other polyphenols in green tea are known to act as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. This means that they block the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine and so increase the activity of this neurotransmitter which is essential to memory consolidation.
There are different benefits of moderate consumption of red wine, and these are all due to the antioxidants in red wine.
Experts say regular but moderate consumption of red wine can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and improve cognitive functions including memory and learning.
Red wines are produced from grapes which themselves are rich in antioxidants.
The alcohol in red wine can also improve memory but only when consumed in moderate quantities. It stimulates the release of acetylcholine in the brain and, therefore, gives memory a boost.
Spices and food seasoning can also be important brain foods. The 3 most important examples of these are sage, rosemary and turmeric. All 3 are both herbs and food spice.
Sage has a number of medicinal properties including serving as an antibiotic, antifungal, antispasmodic, astringent and hypoglycemic agent as well as brain tonic. Sage leaf extract has be found effective in the management of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
Rosemary is rich in calcium, iron and vitamin B6. Because of its antioxidant properties, it is commonly added to omega-3 oils to prevent them from going rancid.
Rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid are the two most important antioxidants in rosemary, and these can help protect brain cells from damage caused by reactive oxygen species and harmful free radicals.
Turmeric is a popular spice in Asian cuisine and an important herb in Ayurveda traditional medicine. It contains antibiotic and antifungal phytochemicals but the most important compounds in turmeric are curcumin and its metabolites.
Curcumin is the compound responsible for the use of turmeric as a food coloring agent. It is also responsible for a number of medicinal benefits of the herb including its anti-amyloid effect.
Preliminary research suggests the benefit of curcumin (and turmeric) to people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. By breaking down beta amyloid proteins, curcumin inhibits the formation and deposition of plaque in the brain, and therefore, improves cognitive functions including memory.
Oils are very important brain foods. Most of the oils known to improve memory are extracted from the fruits, nuts and herbs discussed above. For example, the use of sage oil and rosemary oil in this regard is backed with multiple positive studies.
Other memory-enhancing essential oils include the oils of lemon, jasmine, peppermint and lavender.
These oils can be ingested by adding them to drinks including water or inhaled.
Some cooking oils can also enhance memory and cognitive function. Coconut oil is the most important of such cooking oils.
Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (such as caprylic acid) known to provide immediate energy rather than stored as fat. It also reduces insulin resistance.
The oil is very stable and it is better than trans fat which produces reactive oxygen species that can cause brain damage.
Already, caprylic acid has been studied for possible use in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It was noted to be a good supplement for improving cognitive function.
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