Photo by Milad Fakurian
When we think about food, we often think about whether it will make us fat or help us slim down. We wonder how it will taste and how it might make us feel later. We usually don’t think about whether the meal is good for the brain, but the foods we eat can have a tremendous impact on our ability to focus and stay alert.
Here are five easy-to-find and great-tasting foods you can add to your diet to help keep your brain sharp and healthy.
Rich, decadent dark chocolate is delicious, and research has shown that this guilty pleasure may do great things for the brain. While all chocolate contains some cocoa, dark chocolate can have more than twice as much cocoa as your favorite candy bar. That means it has twice the brain-boosting power, and it is often lower in calories.
Like many great foods, chocolate is derived from plants. The plant compounds found in cocoa belong to a special group of antioxidants known as flavonoids, which are dark chocolate’s secret weapon to protect the brain from aging and other conditions. Dark chocolate is effective in protecting neuropathways as we age and eases some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
Dark chocolate also has been shown in research at Harvard to help regulate blood pressure, especially in those with hypertension.
It takes only about 1 ounce per day to reap all these benefits.
Searching for a drink that could help boost mental performance, protect your brain against aging and help you relax? Green tea is the drink for you. People have touted green tea for centuries as a healthy drink, and it is widely available in retail shops and coffeehouses.
As you probably guessed, green tea contains everyone’s favorite pick-me-up, caffeine. Millions of people use caffeine to wake up and start the day, but caffeine does more than help you get through the morning. It helps your brain stay alert and perform better and even makes it easier to remember things and stay focused on your work.
If that’s all it did, green tea would be great. But it also can help you relax, thanks to an amino acid known as L-theanine. According to the journal Nutrients, the L-theanine in green tea helps balance out the caffeine by reducing anxiety and relaxing you. A drink that not only wakes you up, but also puts you in a better mood — what more could you ask for?
The old saying “A good defense is the best offense” probably was about oranges, but it could have been. Oranges are packed with vitamin C, which does more than ward off colds; it also puts a protective barrier around the brain.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, so it can protect your brain cells from damage caused by unstable atoms known as free radicals. Free radicals become more common in our bodies as we age and if we practice unhealthy habits. Vitamin C gives your body a weapon against these insidious invaders. Eating one orange daily gives you almost all of the vitamin C you need.
If you are looking for a quick and easy snack to help your brain, consider nuts. Nuts taste great and are easy to eat on the go, and they are full of nutrients that can help your brain and heart. Plus, with all the types, if peanuts aren’t your thing, there are cashews, pistachios, walnuts and more.
Nuts contain antioxidants such as vitamin E, which has been shown to protect the body against the effects of aging, based on research published in the journal Nutrients. Cognitive decline is something that many people worry about, and the Journal of Nutritional Health and Aging reported that women who eat nuts regularly have been shown to have sharper memories than women who don’t.
The other nutrients in nuts, such as healthy fats and antioxidants, bring brain-protecting benefits to men as well.
Coffee is enjoyed all over the world and is prepared in dozens if not hundreds of ways. For almost six centuries, humans have enjoyed coffee for its taste and its ability to give us a boost in the morning.
As you know, coffee gets its magic power from caffeine, a natural stimulant. Caffeine is quickly absorbed by the body and can have beneficial effects in an hour or less. It blocks the chemical in our brain that makes us feel tired and increases feel-good chemicals such as dopamine. This one-two punch not only makes us feel more awake, but also helps us stay alert and focused.
The brain is the most important organ in the body. It is what makes you, well, you. It makes sense to do all we can to make the brain work as well as possible and to protect it from the march of time. Adding a few simple foods can help keep the brain working great today and well into the future.