Brain Food Is Real: Diet Affects Memory As We Get Older, Study Shows

An international team of researchers found that seniors who consumed the most nutritious food had a nearly 25 percent reduction in the risk of mental decline compared those with the least healthy diets. This study was published in the online issue of Neurology.

The researchers followed 27,860 people aged 55 or older from 40 different countries for an average of about five years. Everyone in the study had either diabetes or a history of heart disease, stroke or peripheral artery disease.

At the beginning of the study, participants were asked how often they ate certain kinds of foods, such as fruits and vegetables, nuts and soy proteins, whole grains, deep-fried foods and alcohol. Memory and thinking ability were also tested at the beginning of the study, and then again at two years and at the end of the study.

The exam looked at 10 different aspects of cognition and included tests of a person’s ability to remember and then recall lists of objects, their arithmetic abilities and their attention span. The maximum score was 30 and participants were considered to have declined mentally if their score dropped by three points or more.

Over the course of the study, 4,699 people suffered a decline in thinking and memory.

Those consuming the most nutritious diets were 24 percent less likely to have cognitive declines compared to people consuming the least healthy foods. The results didn’t change when researchers accounted for factors that might impact cognitive health, including physical activity, high blood pressure and a history of cancer.

The authors of the latest research suggest that the quality of one’s diet might affect cognitive aging in a number of ways: Poor nutrition is likely to rob body and brain of vitamins and minerals that not only promote the generation of healthy new cells but help guard against inflammation, help break down fats and protect cells from stress.

Limiting inflammation, stress and blockage is critical to keeping the brain’s lifeline – its intricate web of large and small blood vessels ― open, and to keep one’s neurons thrumming.

With the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States alone expected to triple between now and 2050, diet may be a first line of defence, the authors suggest: “Improved diet quality represents an important potential target for reducing the global burden of cognitive decline,” they write.

Eleven brain-boosting foods


Like everything else in your body, the brain cannot work without energy. The ability to concentrate and focus comes from the adequate, steady supply of energy ― in the form of glucose in our blood to the brain. Achieve this by choosing wholegrains with a low-GI, which release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day. Opt for ‘brown’ cereals, wheatbran, granary bread and brown pasta.


Fatty fish is the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been touted as a brain tonic for young and old alike. In one study, elderly people who ate fish at least once a week slowed cognitive decline about 10 percent compared to those who didn’t chow down on fish, and the fish-eaters also performed better on tests of memory and mental sharpness.


Blueberries have been shown to have the highest concentration of antioxidants of any fruit that has been studied. One half cup of blueberries has as much antioxidant power as five servings of carrots, peas, apples, broccoli, or squash. Blueberries offer protection from oxidative stress in the heart — as well as the brain.


A Harvard University study showed American men who took 50mg of the antioxidant beta-carotene every other day for 15 years delayed cognitive ageing. Not a pill popper? Five servings of carrots a week reduce the risk of stroke by 68 percent.


There is good evidence to suggest that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s.


A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that a good intake of vitamin E might help to prevent cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E along with leafy green vegetables, asparagus, olives, seeds, eggs, brown rice and whole grains.

Pumpkin seeds

Just a handful of pumpkin seeds a day is all you need to get your recommended daily amount of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills.


Raisins are good for your brain because they are an excellent source of boron, a trace element that improves hand-eye coordination, attention and memory. Other good sources of boron include hazelnuts, almonds and dried apricots.

Green tea

Researchers in Japan found drinking a cup a day cuts your risk of age-related cognitive decline by 37 percent compared to those who consume less. Let it steep for at least three minutes for more brain benefits. The helpful compounds, polyphenols, are also found in olive oil, chocolate and both beer and wine.


Japanese scientists found that a diet supplemented with rosemary extract resulted in less brain damage thanks to the herb’s ability to combat free radicals, preventing the onset of degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Dark chocolate

Let’s end with the good stuff. Dark chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties, contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhance focus and concentration, and stimulates the production of endorphins, which helps improve mood. This is one superfood where more is not better. You have to do this one in moderation.

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