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Eat Well to be Well: Build brainpower with brain-healthy foods

“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” This very wise and aptly spoken quote from Buddha makes perfect sense in the world today when a greater percentage of our population is developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

We always hear talk about heart health but what about brain health? Our brain needs our attention too. It needs to be nourished and fed the right kind of foods to keep us thinking clearly, focused, feeling energetic and functioning at our best.

As dementia and Alzheimer’s disease continue to rise in the United States with no cure in sight, the earlier we begin making healthy food choices, the better. Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death with 5.3 million Americans living with this condition. It is predicted that unless a cure is found, 16 million Americans will have the disease by 2050.

The brain needs adequate blood flow to enhance memory and cognitive thinking. Many studies have been conducted demonstrating how a healthy diet with proper food choices does indeed make a remarkable difference in how we think and feel, giving us a brain boost we can benefit from. By adding in foods to boost brain health, this is one way we can participate in keeping our brains healthy. Here are five foods for protecting, promoting and preserving brain health:

1. Go for the greens

It’s good to be green and it’s very good to eat greens. Look in your grocery cart and see how many foods you choose that are green. All that green means antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber and tons of important vitamins and nutrients. The darker the green the better – choose spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, Romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Include these foods in a stir-fry or try roasted for a delicious change of pace.

2. Blueberries

Having a handful (at least) of blueberries each day is a great way to work on keeping your brain healthy. This antioxidant packed berry helps support brain health increasing cognitive abilities. Several studies, including a 2012 review, found regular consumption of blueberries may be one strategy to forestall or even reverse age-related neuronal deficits. The polyphenolic compounds found in this sweet berry help lower oxidative stress and inflammation – they destroy free radicals that cause damage at the cellular level of all organs including brain cells.

3. Salmon

This deep-water fish is brimming with essential omega-3 fatty acids necessary for brain functioning. Omega-3s also contain anti-inflammatory substances protecting the brain and  keeping it mentally sharp. A couple of fist-sized portions twice a week of salmon – canned or fresh – should be part of your healthy meal plan

4. Avocados

This fatty fruit is loaded with good-for-you monounsaturated fat, contributing to healthy blood flow, leading to a healthy brain. They also help lower blood pressure or hypertension, which is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities of the brain. Even though high in calories, eating 1/4 to 1/2 of an avocado each day is an easy way to fight off age-related changes while keeping your brain sharp as a tack.

5. Nuts

Ever so popular, nuts are known for not only their heart healthy nutritional punch but now also for their brain health boost. Thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids they contain, these fats are necessary for neuron growth and plasticity, possibly fighting against age-related changes. Our bodies do not make omega-3 fatty acids, so they must be obtained from our diet. One of the best sources of omega-3s are walnuts. Studies have shown walnuts to be associated with better memory scores and cognitive function. The antioxidants in walnuts may help counteract age-related cognitive decline, reducing the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s. Since walnuts can go rancid, it’s best to store them in the refrigerator.

Living a brain healthy life

To keep your brain at its optimal best, it pays off to live a brain healthy life. Each day, try to make it a priority to do the following – eat well-balanced meals, choose at least five servings of fruit and vegetables, engage in regular exercise, get adequate sleep and have a strong social network of friends. Even if you can practice at least a couple of these suggestions, you’ll be doing your brain a huge favor now and in the future.

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institutional management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for local clinics, an adjunct professor at an area community college where she teaches basic nutrition, and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She is the author of The Nourished Brain: The Latest Science On Food’s Power For Protecting The Brain From Alzheimers and Dementia. Visit her website at

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