6 foods that boost your memory

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While blanking on a name or misplacing your keys every once in a while isn't something to worry about, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your memory. One of the best preventive measures is a brain-building diet. “The brain is one of the hardest-working organs in the body,” says Christy Wilson, R.D., “Like the heart, it never rests, so it’s crucial to nourish brain cells with foods that protect it and promote its function.”

Foods rich in antioxidants protect your brain from harmful free radicals, which have been shown to speed up cognitive decline, says Wilson. The nice bites below will help keep your mind and memory sharp:

1. Lentils and beans

Protein-rich legumes are high in folate–-a nutrient that produces and maintains new red cells and lowers levels of homocysteine, which studies suggest damage blood vessels.1 A one-cup serving of lentils or beans provides between 50 to 75% of your daily folate needs. Bonus: foods with folate may not only help protect the brain from cognitive decline, they also promote heart health and ward off cancer and diabetes, says Wilson.

2. Coffee

Thanks a latte: Caffeine not only wakes you up—it can also keep your memory perky, too. A recent study in Nature Neuroscience showed that a small dose of caffeine—about 200 mg, around the amount in a large cup of coffee--given to volunteers after they had memorized a series of pictures helped them recall subtle details about the pictures.

3. Cabbage

A Harvard study of 13,000 women suggests that cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and bok choy may protect your memory. Participants who ate relatively high amounts of vegetables over the years had less age-related decline in memory.2 “These results prove that eating a plant-based diet is nourishing to our brain function and overall health,” says Wilson.

4. Strawberries

These juicy fruits are an excellent source of anthocyanins, water-soluble antioxidants that give strawberries their red color; they soak free radicals that can cause a host of health problems, says Wilson. In addition, anthocyanins have been shown to help protect the brain from drops in dopamine levels, which heavily influence motor and brain function and health.

5. Fatty Fish

A recent Rush University Medical Center study found that people who ate fish at least once a week had a 10 percent slower cognitive decline compared with those who did not eat fish.3 Oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines and trout are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. One in particular, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may help improve memory, especially in young adults. “Since DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain, so it makes sense that if you have higher levels in the blood, the brain will function more efficiently,” says Wilson.

6. Wine

Antioxidants called polyphenols in red wine (also found in fruit juices like concord grape juice, tea, coffee, dark chocolate, and legumes) may improve brain cell survival and help boost or preserve cell function, according to Wilson. But go easy on the pour: a moderate amount is enough for positive effects, and too much alcohol may lead to addiction or accidents. If you already imbibe, limit yourself to one drink per day for women and up to two per day for men.

Sources not cited or linked to above:

1 http://www.nia.nih.gov/newsroom/2002/02/high-homocysteine-levels-may-double-risk-dementia-alzheimers-disease-new-report (opens in new window)

2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15852398 (opens in new window)

3 http://lib.ajaums.ac.ir/booklist/archives%20of%20neurology_Dec-12_27.pdf (opens in new window)