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1. Omega-3 fatty acids
The Lesson: You know that DHA omega-3 fatty acid is good for the brain, but do you know why? Groundbreaking research from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore reveals that a critical transporter protein, Mfsd2a, carries the dietary nutrient to the brain, which then turns over DHA faster than other fatty acids for functional development. That makes it easier for scientists to determine the best way to add DHA into food, as published online in the journal Nature in May 2014.
A-Plus Action: Find naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acid in food sources such as wild salmon, or supplement with fish oil.
Related: 15 Succulent Salmon Recipes
The Lesson: If you think it’s smart to stash your pantry with different types of vinegar, you’re right, but for more reasons than you might think. A new review article in the Journal of Food Science highlights how “vinegar consumption might improve cognitive function in humans”; scientists hypothesize that its bacteria promote the growth of new neurons in the brain.
A-Plus Action: Make your own salad dressing with vinegar, water, herbs and olive oil.
The Lesson: Yes, it’s true that chocolate helps your brain, but not the kind that’s coating for processed foods. A new report from the University of California, San Diego shows that diets heavy in trans fats actually hurt your memory. The flavanols in raw cocoa, meanwhile, were recently shown to stave off the memory loss that can accompany aging.
A-Plus Action: Stick to a daily square of the purest dark chocolate you can find, or sip unadulterated hot cocoa like Clean Choice Award winner Choffy.
The Lesson: A second cup of coffee may seem to provide the jolt you need to get through the day’s project, but it’s actually H20 that really gets your brain going. British scientists recently found that students who drank water while taking exams performed better than those who didn’t.
A-Plus Action: Keep the water flushing through your body during the day and at night, too; another new study shows that alcoholism damages the white matter of the brain.
The Lesson: Your body naturally produces this amino acid that helps increase energy production. In recent years, however, acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) supplements have been used to treat depression and Alzheimer’s disease, with some indications it may help memory and aging brains. That’s because of the way it works with your dopamine receptors, according to research in the Journal of Neuroscience Research.
A-Plus Action: Find ALCAR in pills or powder, but talk to your health care provider before taking the supplement.
6. Vitamin E
The Lesson: A Swedish and Italian study has found that the higher the level of vitamin E in your blood, the lower your risk of developing dementia.
A-Plus Action: Seek vitamin E in leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, or talk to your doctor about taking supplements.
The Lesson: Indian or Chinese takeout tonight? Go for the former, or better yet, make it yourself. Curcumin, an active component of turmeric (a pungent herb used in curry), has been shown to reduce inflammation in nerve cells, leading scientists in the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology to suggest it may lead to “a promising treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.” Another study, in Stem Cell Research & Therapy, shows that turmeric can support regeneration in neurologic disorders.
A-Plus Action: Toss air popped popcorn with curry powder, and add the spice to soups, stews and even scrambled eggs.
Related: Turmeric Ginger Latte recipe
8. Huperzine A
The Lesson: Can moss really help your memory? That’s what Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, the official journal of the Chinese Pharmacological Society, indicates in a study of the moss-derived alkaloid known as huperzine A. Researchers report that it can help protect the brain and slow down cognitive decline.
A-Plus Action: Discuss huperzine A with your health care provider before reaching for the supplement, which is available as over the-counter pills.
The Lesson: This is a micronutrient that’s essential for everyday cellular work, but it’s also critical to brain development and memory function, according to a study in The Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
A-Plus Action: Add more shrimp, eggs, collard greens and broccoli to your culinary repertoire; all these foods are very good sources of choline.