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Cocoa is high in flavanols, antioxidants that have been shown to help increase learning, improve memory and boost overall brain power. Some studies show the effect is greatly enhanced when combined with exercise. Other good sources of flavanols include tea and red wine.
Try this: Add a handful of raw cacao nibs to smoothies; stir dark cocoa powder into your morning coffee; sprinkle dark chocolate shavings over a bowl of fresh raspberries.
Nutritional yeast is high in folate, a B vitamin linked with healthy fetal brain development and overall cognitive improvement; deficiencies can lead to neurological disorders such as depression, cognitive decline and dementia. Additionally, nutritional yeast is an excellent source of vitamins B6 and B12, which are both important for brain health and memory performance.
Try this: Purée cashew butter, nutritional yeast and water for a creamy “cheese” sauce; toss with cooked pasta and olive oil; sprinkle over steamed broccoli tossed with olive oil.
Turmeric contains curcumin, an antioxidant that may prevent the development and accumulation of plaque formations linked with Alzheimer’s. Studies show that curcumin can protect against cognitive decline and lessen impairment in traumatic brain injury, and it may even stimulate new brain cell production.
Related: Turmeric Ginger Latte
Try this: Combine with warm milk and honey for a traditional Ayurvedic beverage; toss warm chickpeas with turmeric, coconut oil and chopped tomatoes; add grated fresh turmeric root to sautéed garlic and kale.
Spinach is high in lutein, an antioxidant that protects the brain from free radical damage and inflammation. People with mild cognitive impairment have been shown to have reduced lutein status, and boosting lutein levels has been shown to enhance learning and memory. Other good sources of lutein are kale, chard, collards and egg yolks.
Try this: Finely chop spinach and stir into pasta sauce; purée with white beans, garlic and olive oil for a fast dip; add a handful to breakfast smoothies.
Avocado is rich in vitamin E, which has been shown to slow cognitive decline in the elderly. It also contains monounsaturated fats, which help improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins from foods such as spinach, kale and other leafy greens.
Try this: Mash avocado with cooked potatoes or cauliflower just before serving; purée with olive oil and apple cider vinegar for a creamy dressing; halve avocado lengthwise, remove pit, brush with olive oil and grill.
Eggs are loaded with choline, a type of B-vitamin that can enhance memory and cognition. It’s a component of phosphatidylcholine, a critical part of cell membranes, especially brain cells. Beef, fish, asparagus, collard greens and Brussels sprouts are other good sources.
Try this: Make deviled eggs, but mash yolks with avocado instead of mayonnaise; scramble eggs with tikka masala sauce for a fast egg curry; bake eggs and minced vegetables in ramekins, then top with shaved cheese.
Celery contains luteolin, a flavonoid antioxidant that protects the brain from inflammation, cognitive aging and neurodegenerative diseases, and it can greatly enhance memory, learning and spatial awareness. Other sources include radicchio, peppers, parsley, artichokes, juniper berries and sage.
Try this: Stuff celery stalks with almond butter and top with dried cranberries; juice it with carrots and ginger; toss sliced celery with garlic and olive oil and roast until golden.
Rosemary is high in carnosic acid, a phytochemical that enhances learning and spatial memory, reduces oxidative stress and prevents neuron damage. Studies suggest it can protect against Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Carnosic acid is also found in sage and in small amounts in other foods.
Try this: Add whole rosemary sprigs to soups during cooking; mince rosemary needles and add to bread dough; use rosemary sprigs as skewers for grilling vegetables.
Yogurt contains probiotics, beneficial bacteria that keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy. Because about 90% of the body’s serotonin – a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and behavior – is made in the gut, it’s important to keep the intestinal lining healthy. Studies also show taking probiotic supplements may improve mental outlook and lower stress and anxiety levels.
Try this: Combine with puréed mango for a fast, refreshing lassi; whisk with honey and drizzle over grilled peaches; mix with minced herbs to make a creamy, healthy dressing.
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fats, which many studies have linked to a reduction in age-related cognitive decline, protection against Alzheimer’s and general improvement in cognition and mood. If you don’t eat fish, walnuts, flax and chia are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a fatty acid that can be converted by the body to omega-3 fatty acids.
Try this: Wrap asparagus spears in smoked salmon; add crumbled cooked salmon to scrambled eggs; toss with pasta, olive oil and minced chives.
B-Complex Vitamins & Vitamin C
A 2010 study published in Psychopharmacology shows that a high dose of B-complex vitamins taken with vitamin C are critical for brain health and are directly tied to an improvement in mood. The study authors noted, “Vitamin C is the brain’s most prevalent antioxidant and is found at its greatest concentrations in neuron-rich areas.”
Studies have found that zinc may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by preventing the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques (accumulation of these plaques can lead to Alzheimer’s).
Vitamin D & Omega-3s
For those low in serotonin, vitamin D acts as a hormone to help release more neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which may help improve mood and fend off depression. Optimize serotonin concentrations in the brain by pairing vitamin D with omega-3. This combination may help prevent and modulate neurological disorders and help improve cognitive function.
Herbs Bacopa & Sage
These are scientifically proven to enhance memory, and both may have Alzheimer’s-protective power.
Cognizin, a form of Citicoline, a natural substance found in every cell of the body that is vital to brain health and helps with concentration, recall and overall thinking processes.