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Can you improve your memory with food?

Posted Nov 18 2010 12:00am
YES! Eating certain foods can help make life's little details unforgettable.

Age, stress, quality and length of sleep, medications, and of course, nutrition can all influence how well your memory functions. Physiologically, good memory depends on your total number of brain cells (neurons), the smooth flow of communication between the cells and the health of the cells.

In many ways, overall health can strongly affect memory. For example, the health of the body's cardiovascular system can affect the performance of brain cells. Every cell in the body needs a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients to stay alive and work properly. Because oxygen and nutrients are carried in the bloodstream, anything that impedes blood flow can negatively affect brain cell function.

Simply put, a healthy heart makes for a healthy brain. So it's important to keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check and to exercise regularly and not smoke.

A heart-healthy diet is therefore crucial to general health as well as to the health of memory, and compelling research has linked specific foods and their nutrients to the enhancement or preservation of memory. These "brain" foods contain flavonoids, which are chemical compounds that give fruits and leafy green vegetables their color. Two important flavonoids that appear to support memory function are anthocyanins and quercetin (both are found in apples, blueberries, and red onions, to name just a few sources).

Other nutrients that have been found to improve memory are folate and omega-3 fatty acids. Take a look at the following list for a rundown of the best foods for boosting brainpower.

Berries
Berries have some of the highest concentrations of antioxidants among fruit, and all berries are rich in healthy anthocyanins and flavonols(a subgroup of flavonoids),which may help protect against the breakdown of brain cells. Some encouraging animal studies have suggested that diets rich in flavonoids may help reverse memory loss in humans.

Blueberries in particular have received a lot of attention because they are one of the best food sources of flavonoids. In fact, a British study revealed that eating plenty of blueberries can enhance spatial memory and learning.

Fresh berries are available at farmers' markets, local supermarkets, and health food stores. During off-season months, frozen berries are a good substitute and just as nutritious.
  
Leafy greens
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens are loaded with folate (folic acid is the synthetic form of this nutrient that's found in supplements and fortified foods) —  which seems to have a direct effect on memory. 

Fatty Fish
Healthy fats are important for a healthy mind. Research suggests that when it comes to food and memory, fish should be the star of the show — specifically, fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel and the generous amounts of omega-3 fats they provide.  Strive to eat three 4-ounce servings of fatty fish per week. If that's not realistic, consider using fish oil supplements.

Coffee
There's good news for coffee lovers: Research found that caffeinated coffee can temporarily sharpen a person's focus and memory.  Also,  the effects of caffeine may be longer lasting in women.  One thing to keep in mind, though, is that unfiltered coffee (such as espresso, as well as coffee made in a French press) contains compounds that can raise cholesterol levels, especially in people who are already battling high cholesterol. To be safe, stick with filtered coffee, and of course, be moderate when adding milk and sugar!
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