10 Best Foods Series: The 10 Best Foods For Brain Health and Memory Improvement

10 Best Foods Series: The 10 Best Foods For Brain Health and Memory Improvement

blue brain

This is the second article in a series of articles titled: The 10 Best Foods.

In this series, I will cover the ten best foods that help improve some part of our lives. If these recommended foods are consumed on a regular basis, your health, beauty, and mood will improve dramatically. So let’s begin.

In this article, I will cover the ten best foods for improving brain health and memory capacity. These foods are the foods that will help you think more clearly and improve memory critical for your success in life.

Check out my article on the ten best foods to reduce stress and achieve inner calmness HERE

We are the species with the highest number of neurons (brain cells), which is a predictor of cognitive ability and intelligence. Our brains are also large in proportion to the size of our bodies when compared with other mammals. We are unique, and we came to be this unique due to the diet and lifestyle of our prehistoric ancestors.

The foods we choose to consume, affect our brain health and memory due to their composition of nutrients which affect our brain both chemically and physiologically.

Consuming complex carbohydrate rich foods has a very positive effect on brain health and memory because, during complex carbohydrate digestion, our body forms glucose which supplies brain cells with fuel, but the body also forms glycogen from the excess complex carbohydrates. Glycogen can be quickly converted back to glucose when the brain or body needs energy and carbohydrates are not immediately available from food. Glycogen is a source of fuel available for our brains immediately when needed.  But glycogen is more than just a storage of energy available for use in emergencies. In the brain, glycogen is found in small amounts indicating that it does not only serve as an energy store. (1) It has been found that glycogen in the brain is an active molecule having many consequences on the brain cell function and memory since it is observed to be broken down during intense brain activity showing an important physiological role in glycogen metabolism. (2-7)

We have a very limited and little capacity to store glycogen.

However, there are certain foods keep adequate levels of glycogen in your system and thereby support brain function and memory.

Having a regular source of complex carbohydrate food in the diet increases glycogen levels and enhances brain function and memory in humans whereas not consuming enough complex carbohydrates can lead to glycogen depletion.

Also, specific antioxidant-rich foods reduce excessive accumulation of free radicals in the brain. Brain cells have a naturally high risk for oxygen damage, and they require extraordinary antioxidant protection at all times.

B vitamins are also essential for brain health. B vitamins (B6, B12 and folic acid) reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment. (10)

The importance in brain health and memory is of particular significance in our later years due to its influence on the quality of our lives in later life. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease involve damage of nerve cells in several areas of the brain. Eating foods that support brain health will protect our brain cells from damage. (8)

So which foods promote glycogen production, reduce brain tissue damage and improve brain health and memory?

Here are the top 10 foods that improve brain health and function:

Bananas are great at promoting brain health due to their rich nutrient and carbohydrate content. Bananas are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals especially vitamin B6 required for proper brain development and function.

Grapes provide us with cognitive benefits by reducing excessive accumulation of free radicals in the brain and reducing pro-inflammatory molecules in the brain.

Blueberries have been shown to improve cognitive function including memory as well as postpone the onset of cognitive problems associated with aging by lowering the risk of oxidative stress. (9)

Brown rice, buckwheat, barley, and oats are an excellent source of many minerals especially manganese. Manganese helps produce energy and is involved in the synthesis of fatty acids, which are essential for a healthy nervous system. Whole grains are also rich in B vitamins including B6, B12, and folic acid, reducing levels of homocysteine in the blood.

Tomatoes are rich in the powerful antioxidant lycopene which helps protect the brain against free radical damage commonly occurring in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

Potatoes are very rich in antioxidants and vitamin B6 needed for normal brain function and brain development.

Winter squash are rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants as well as vitamins A, B6, and C and manganese, all supporting brain health and memory.

Walnuts are an excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids, in their healthiest form – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Walnuts are also rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants and are rich in manganese and antioxidant vitamin E composition.

To summarize:

The ten best foods that promote brain health and improve memory are:

  1. Bananas
  2. Grapes
  3. Blueberries
  4. Brown rice
  5. Whole grain wheat, barley, and spelt
  6. Oats
  7. Tomatoes
  8. Potatoes
  9. Winter squash
  10. Walnuts

An optimal diet for brain health should consist of foods at least 55% of total energy coming from various foods rich in complex carbohydrates as well as antioxidant rich foods.

So, if you want to promote brain health and improve memory capacity, incorporate the above ten recommended foods daily into your diet and make sure you get a good nights rest because sleeping encourages the body to replenish glycogen stores and reduces stress which leads to oxidative damage. Sleep has so many positive effects on our total health. Check my article on the benefits of sleep HERE

References:

  1. Brown AM. Brain glycogen re-awakened. J Neurochem. 2004; 89(3):537-52..
  2. Niciu MJ, Kelmendi B, Sanacora G. Overview of glutamatergic neurotransmission in the nervous system. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2012;100(4):656-64. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2011.08.008.
  3. Sickmann H. M., Walls A. B., Schousboe A., Bouman S. D., Waagepetersen H. S. (2009). Functional significance of brain glycogen in sustaining glutamatergic neurotransmission. J. Neurochem. 109(Suppl. 1), 80–86 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2009.05915.x
  4. Gibbs M. E., Anderson D. G., Hertz L. (2006). Inhibition of glycogenolysis in astrocytes interrupts memory consolidation in young chickens. Glia 54, 214–222 10.1002/glia.20377
  5. Dienel G. A., Ball K. K., Cruz N. F. (2007). A glycogen phosphorylase inhibitor selectively enhances local rates of glucose utilization in brain during sensory stimulation of conscious rats: implications for glycogen turnover. J. Neurochem. 102, 466–478 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2007.04595.x
  6. Brown A. M., Sickmann H. M., Fosgerau K., Lund T. M., Schousboe A., Waagepetersen H. S., Ransom B. R. (2005). Astrocyte glycogen metabolism is required for neural activity during aglycemia or intense stimulation in mouse white matter. J. Neurosci. Res. 79, 74–80 10.1002/jnr.20335
  7. Walls A. B., Sickmann H. M., Brown A., Bouman S. D., Ransom B., Schousboe A., Waagepetersen H. S. (2008). Characterization of 1,4-dideoxy-1,4-imino-d-arabinitol (DAB) as an inhibitor of brain glycogen shunt activity. J. Neurochem. 105, 1462–1470 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2008.05250.x
  8. Sayegh, R., Schiff, I., Wurtman, J., Spiers, P., McDermott, J. A. N. I. N. E., & Wurtman, R. (1995). The effect of a carbohydrate-rich beverage on mood, appetite, and cognitive function in women with premenstrual syndrome. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 86(4, Part 1), 520-528.
  9. Krikorian, R., Shidler, M. D., Nash, T. A., Kalt, W., Vinqvist-Tymchuk, M. R., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2010). Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(7), 3996–4000.
  10. Smith AD, Smith SM, de Jager CA, Whitbread P, Johnston C, Agacinski G, Oulhaj A, Bradley KM, Jacoby R, Refsum H. Homocysteine-lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2010 Sep 8;5(9):e12244. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012244.

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