Our brains require a variety of nutrients to function well, so it comes as no surprise that what you eat can affect your cognitive skills and ability to recall information.
Research shows that following a Mediterranean or similar MIND diet can can help prevent or delay age-related cognitive decline and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but specific foods can be helpful, too. “Some of the foods we should consume as part of a healthy diet are rich in memory enhancers,” says dietitian and clinical nutritionist Anna Cortesi.
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Study after study has demonstrated that a diet rich in DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid found in oily fish, may help prevent memory loss and protect against Alzheimer's disease.
A 2011 study conducted in New Zealand found that DHA can boost memory by 15% and researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in the US have shown that people who eat oily fish at least once a week have more grey matter in areas of the brain responsible for memory.
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If you're vegetarian, vegan or simply not fond of fatty fish, you may want to stock up on seaweed of all things to help boost your brainpower.
Whether you opt for trendy dulse, kombu or kelp, seaweed is a stellar veggie source of DHA, plus it contains memory-strengthening iodine as well as chemical compounds called lignans, which have been linked to improved cognitive performance in post-menopausal women.
Sources of omega-3 for people who hate salmon
A staggering 90% of people are thought to be deficient in choline, a micronutrient that helps the body produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This powerful chemical is essential for optimum memory skills and low levels in the brain have been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Eggs, which also contain memory-friendly DHA, are especially rich in choline, so it may be an idea to increase your intake to help support your brain health.
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A study by researchers in the US that was published in 2015 reported that avocado consumption increases levels of the antioxidant lutein in the brain and can help improve cognitive function. Bona fide brain food, avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, too. These healthy fats trigger the production and release of acetylcholine, helping to improve memory and learning skills.
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Broccoli is jam-packed with glucosinolates, sulphur-containing compounds that prevent the breakdown of that all-important neurotransmitter acetylcholine, not to mention vitamin K and vitamin C, which studies show protect the brain and boost cognitive function.
And if that isn't enough to get you reaching for the veggie, broccoli also contains chromium, a trace mineral that may increase brain function in older people experiencing early memory decline.
Discover our bank of delicious broccoli recipes
Several studies have shown that olive oil, which is bursting with virtuous monounsaturated fats, can support brain health and help prevent age-related memory loss, while research has linked diets that are excessively high in saturated fats with poorer cognitive function and impaired memory. If you can, try to limit your use of butter and lard in favour of olive oil, or similar monounsaturated oils such as rapeseed or peanut.
The health benefits of different edible oils
Rich in brain-boosting flavanols, nibbling a little dark chocolate once a week may work wonders on your memory. A recent study published in the journal Appetite found that participants who ate dark chocolate at least once a week had improved memory and abstract thinking skills, while research from 2014 indicates that a diet rich in cocoa may mitigate memory loss in older people. To reap the benefits, opt for chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids and only the best quality cocoa, and try not to overindulge.
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Blueberries are an excellent source of antioxidants called anthocyanins. Researchers have shown time and time again that anthocyanin-containing fruits can protect against the short-term memory loss associated with ageing.
Not a fan of blueberries? Red grapes, blackberries and cherries are also rich in these brain-protecting compounds, as are aubergines, asparagus and even bananas.
The healthiest berries to add to your diet
The heady scent of rosemary can enhance memory according to the latest research. Psychologists at the University of Northumbria found that the herb's aroma can improve memory skills by as much as 7% in teenagers and an even more impressive 15% in people over 65. Give it a go by popping branches of rosemary in pot pourri around the house or snapping up the essential oil and using it as a room fragrance.
Herbal help: learn more about how herbs can benefit your health
Mint is another herb that is associated with improved memory function. A study from 2013 by researchers from Wheeling Jesuit University in the US links the flavour of mint with sharper cognitive skills, while a number of studies have shown that the wonderfully fresh aroma of mint can stimulate the brain, enhancing alertness and the ability to recall information.
Mint cordial recipe
Courgette soup with feta and mint
Filo cigars with feta, mint and dill
Tenderstem broccoli, summer pea and mint soup
Lamb steaks with mint and broad beans
Buffalo mozzarella with broad beans, mint and olive oil
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