If you’re looking to give your brain a boost, you might want to start with what’s on your fork. Whether you want to improve focus, enhance memory, or protect your brain in the long term, we could all benefit from better brain health. And as it turns out, one of the most effective and natural ways to improve memory and focus is by heading to the kitchen. Read on for five ways to give your brain some love in the form of food.
It might sound unfamiliar, but the term flavonoid is just the name for a family of plant compounds that are found in many colorful fruits and vegetables.
Flavonoids are full of health benefits for the entire body, especially the brain. Research has shown that regular flavonoid-rich fruit intake supports healthy brain aging and is associated with delayed neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia.
There are six classes of flavonoids, but brain benefits are most often tied to one class with especially high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects – anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are found in red, blue, and purple berries; red and purple grapes; and yes – red wine. Berries and grapes do tend to be more affected by pesticides than other fruits, so buying organic is recommended.
Scientists at Tufts University have been studying the effects of anthocyanins in berry fruits on brain health for several years. They’ve found that intake of these fruits may help to prevent age-related neurodegeneration (the degeneration of the nervous system that leads to diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia and causes a decline in cognitive and motor function). It turns out that berry fruits can actually affect the way in which brain cells communicate.
Depending on where you live, fresh fruits and veggies, especially berries, can be tough to get year-round. So, when fresh isn’t feasible and frozen isn’t palatable, try a whole food-based supplement like Berry Powder. It is made with more than 20 organic red, blue, and purple berries and can be mixed into smoothies, plain yogurt, or oatmeal for a tasty and nourishing brain boost and one of the most convenient natural ways to improve memory and focus.
Flavonoids can also be found in other nutrient-packed plant foods like broccoli, kale, apples, and green and black tea. Matcha tea has a higher concentration of green tea phytochemicals compared to regular green tea and has repeatedly demonstrated benefits on mood and cognitive performance.
Finally, it’s worth noting that flavonoids are part of the family of polyphenols, and another member of this family, resveratrol, also has demonstrated benefits for brain health. Resveratrol is found in the skin and seeds of grapes and berries and can help protect brain cells against oxidative damage and toxicity that may lead to neurodegenerative disorders.
While many members of the B vitamin family are important for brain health, one of its relatives is especially critical. Choline is an essential nutrient found in all living cells that is essential for proper functioning of a whole host of body systems, including the liver, nerves, muscles, and yes – the brain!
In a 2019 study by the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center, the protective effects of choline on the brain were explored. The study showed that choline can help prevent Alzheimer's disease by reducing levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. Homocysteine is known to double the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by contributing to neurodegeneration and the formation of amyloid plaques, both hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. Choline actually has the ability to convert homocysteine into the helpful chemical methionine.
While the body can produce small amounts of choline itself, we need to include choline in our diet or through supplementation to meet our body’s needs. Animal foods high in choline include liver, seafood, and eggs. Vegan sources of choline include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. Wheat germ, peanuts, and soybeans also contain small amounts.
However, even a serving of the richest animal sources only gets us about one-third of the daily 450mg recommended daily intake (RDI) of choline. Because these natural sources of choline are limited, it is estimated that 90% of Americans don’t meet the RDI for choline, and since vegan sources of choline have substantially less of the nutrient, vegans are at particular risk of choline deficiency.
For those who cannot achieve their choline needs through daily diet, supplementation is a good option. If you’re in the market for a choline supplement, seek out a whole food-based supplement like Choline Complex™. It’s a natural alterative to the synthetic isolates like choline bitartrate and choline citrate that are common on the market. It’s also a more practical alternative to phosphatidylcholine, which has to be taken in larger amounts to achieve the recommended daily intake of 450mg. Choline Complex is a vegan choline supplement with 275mg of choline per tablet and is made with organic, whole plant-based foods and without any artificial fillers or chemical solvents.
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re considering a natural supplement for brain health, but with a wealth of research supporting its benefits as well as evidence around its widespread deficiency, choline is a pretty compelling brain and memory supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a category of healthy fats that are considered essential because they are substances your body requires to function but cannot make itself. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). While all three are important for optimal health, DHA is the most important when it comes to the brain.
See, our brains are quite rich in fat themselves. Fat makes up about two-thirds of the brain and 20 percent of that fat is DHA. DHA helps to form the myelin sheath which serves as the insulation for the nerves in the brain. It also helps maintain the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, a layer of cells surrounding the brain that keeps harmful substances out while allowing vital nutrients in. Low DHA levels have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss, and consumption of DHA has been shown to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
The best source of DHA is fatty fish like salmon and sardines. With more than enough omegas in just one serving, fatty fish truly is the ultimate brain food! But if fish isn’t part of your routine, algae based DHA is available as a vegan supplement for brain health. In addition to adding in DHA-rich foods to your diet, consider limiting your consumption of vegetable oils. They tend to be extremely high in an omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid that promotes inflammation and actually reduces the production and effectiveness of DHA within your body.
There is also some evidence that another Omega-3 supports the brain by helping to lower blood pressure and protect the arteries. A 2015 study from UCLA linked higher walnut consumption to improved cognitive test scores, and this benefit is believed to stem from the ALA content of walnuts.
Vitamin C might be known for its immune benefits, but this water-soluble vitamin has powerful antioxidant properties that make it one of the best natural ways to improve memory and focus.
Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties provide protection against the oxidative damage that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease as well as general cognitive decline in normal aging. In a review of 50 studies of vitamin C levels and cognitive function conducted between 1980 and January 2017, Australian researchers found a striking relationship between vitamin C status and mental function. Those with healthy brain function had significantly higher blood concentrations of vitamin C than those who were cognitively impaired. In addition, of those with healthy brain function, the research found that the higher the blood level of vitamin C, the higher the cognitive ability.
Good food sources of this important vitamin for memory include citrus fruits, bell peppers, guava, kiwi, tomatoes, and strawberries. Supplements are also easy to come by but be wary of synthetic corn-derived products that often contain fillers or are acidic and hard on the stomach. Pure Synergy’s Pure Radiance C® is made with organic camu camu and organic acerola cherries plus 9 antioxidant-rich organic berries and fruits that serve as valuable flavonoid cofactors. It comes as either capsules to swallow or in a super-fine powder to easily add to any beverage or even sprinkle on food.
Certain herbs have also demonstrated brain benefits. Whether used in cooking or taken in concentrated form, the following herbs are great natural and vegan supplements for brain health:
Turmeric – this potent herb contains the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant curcumin which has been shown to boost memory and stimulate the production of new brain cells.
- Bacopa – this herb is popular in the Ayurvedic tradition and several randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have substantiated its brain benefits in humans. It demonstrates tremendous potential in the improvement of cognitive disorders, as well as the reduction of oxidative damage, neurotransmitter modulation, and cognitive enhancement in healthy people.
- Lemon balm – typically known for its calming properties, lemon balm also has a high flavonoid content and has been shown to enhance memory and cognition.
Food for Thought
No matter your age or stage of life or your short or long-term health goals, supporting brain health is probably a top priority. After all, we don’t just want to live long lives, we want to live full, complete, healthy lives. So, in considering your options to feed the mind, keep in mind these top five natural ways to improve memory and focus!
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.