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Video: Food for thought

By
TODAY
updated 7/8/2008 9:04:36 AM ET 2008-07-08T13:04:36

Every cell in your body needs a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to stay alive and work properly, including brain cells. Because oxygen and nutrients are carried in the blood stream, anything that impedes blood flow will starve those all-important brain cells. The plain truth is that a healthy heart makes for a healthy brain. So keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check, exercise regularly, don’t smoke and get at least seven hours of sleep each night.

Compelling research also indicates that certain foods and nutrients can help enhance your memory. Read the facts on fish, berries, leafy greens and coffee — and be sure you remember to incorporate them into your diet.

Fish (3 servings per week)
Research suggests that when it comes to food and memory, fish plays a starring role. Specifically fatty fish like salmon and sardines, thanks to the ample amounts of omega 3 fats they provide. In fact, a study published in the Archives of Neurology in November 2006 found people with the highest levels of omega 3 fats were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with dementia, compared to people with the lowest levels.

Another earlier study conducted by researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago followed more than 3,000 men and women for six years to see how diet affected memory. People who ate fish at least once a week had a 10 percent slower decline compared with those who did not eat fish, a difference that gave them the memory and thinking ability of a person three years younger.

Fatty fish is concentrated in the most potent form of omega 3 fats (EPA and DHA), so go out of your way to incorporate three to five ounces portions at least three times each week.

Best fish to eat (low in contaminants AND high in omega 3 fats): Wild salmon, sardines, lake trout, pacific oysters, and Atlantic mackerel. If that’s not feasible, you can buy fish oil supplements or at the very least incorporate plant based sources of omega 3 fats (significantly less potent than fish): ground flaxseeds, omega-3 fortified eggs and walnuts.

Berries (one cup a day)
Studies that focus on food and memory suggest that the more overall produce you eat, the better. But when it comes to fruit and your memory, berries rate number one! Berries have some of the highest antioxidant concentrations among fruit, and ALL berries are rich in healthy compounds called anthocyanins and flavanols… which may help protect against the breakdown of brain cells.  

Plus these days, it seems you can’t say enough about the health benefits of blue-berries. What makes them so powerful? Their deep blue hue — caused by flavonoids — those natural compounds that protect the brain’s memory-carrying cells (neurons) from the negative effects of oxidation and inflammation. Blueberries are one of the best sources of flavonoids around, and encouraging animal studies suggest that diets rich in flavonoids may help reverse memory loss in humans. In fact, a new British study, published just last month, reveals eating plenty of blueberries can enhance spatial memory and learning.

Buy firm-fleshed berries from a farmer’s market, local supermarket, or health food store. For off season months, take advantage of frozen, unsweetened varieties. Berries taste great mixed into plain yogurt, as a topping for hot or cold cereal or right out of the bowl.

Leafy greens (one cup a day)
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens, are loaded with folate, also known as folic acid — a nutrient which seems to have a direct effect on memory. A study conducted at Tufts University in Boston followed about 320 men for three years. Those who had high blood levels of homocysteine showed memory decline, but if the men ate foods rich in folic acid (folic acid directly lowers homocysteine levels), their memories were protected.

An Australian study also found that eating plenty of foods rich in folic acid was associated with faster information processing and memory recall. After just five weeks of introducing adequate folic acid into their diets, women in the study showed overall improvements in memory.

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Aim for one cup each day!

Coffee (adjust to your personal tolerance)
Good news for coffee lovers. About two years ago, researchers from the University Innsbruck in Austria found caffeinated coffee can temporarily sharpen your focus and memory. After giving volunteers the caffeine equivalent of about two cups of coffee, they observed that their brain activity was increased in two locations—one being the part responsible for memory.  Results were observed using MRI technology. Without caffeine, there was no increase in brain activity.

Then, earlier this year, another study published in a leading Neurology journal, found the effects of coffee may be longer lasting — specifically in women. This four-year long study involving about 7000 participants...  all participants went through thorough baseline evaluations – cognitive function was tested, along with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other vascular issues. Participants were re-evaluated at the two-year mark, and again at the four year mark.

At the end of the four year period, researchers found that women age 65 and older who drank more than three cups of coffee per day (or the caffeine equivalent in tea) had 33 percent less decline in memory over time than women who drank one cup or less of coffee or tea per day.  The results held up even after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect memory abilities, such as age, education, baseline cognitive function, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, medications, and other chronic illnesses. This caffeine-memory association was not observed in men — the authors hypothesize that perhaps that’s because men and women metabolize caffeine differently.

So if memory problems are a major concern for you, and if you don’t have a medical condition that precludes caffeine, feel free to indulge in a cup or two in the morning to jump-start your brain.

Note: If you have elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, you should limit your caffeine fix to plain brewed coffee or tea. There is some evidence that unfiltered coffee (the kind used to make espresso, cappuccino, and latte) may raise cholesterol levels, especially in people who are already battling high cholesterol. To be safe, skip the fancy brews and stick with a regular cup of joe. Of course, be cautious and moderate with added sugar!

For more information on sharpening your memory, along with meals plans, grocery lists and recipes, check out Joy’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com 


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