A Harvard dietitian and brain expert reveal the five meals she consumes daily to improve her memory and concentration
A Harvard dietitian and brain expert reveal the five meals she consumes daily to improve her memory and concentration.
As a nutritionist, I often remind people that the brain is the mastermind behind nearly everything — our ideas, memory, attention, actions, respiration, and heartbeat — and that specific food may help strengthen, sharpen, and smarten it.
Our brain and nutrition also influence longevity. According to the National Institute on Aging, the foods we consume directly control inflammation and oxidative stress in our bodies, both of which can increase our risk of neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, Harvard Medical School faculty member, and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food,” told me about the foods she eats to improve her memory, attention, and overall brain health:
- Dark chocolate that is very dark
“Antioxidants and cacao flavanols in extra dark chocolate assist protect the health of brain cells,” Naidoo tells CNBC Make It. “It also has fiber in it, which helps to decrease inflammation in the brain and prevent cognitive decline.”
Who investigated the effects of dark chocolate and white chocolate on the memory of healthy young people in a 2020 study. Compared to the group that got white chocolate, participants who were given dark chocolate performed higher in verbal memory two hours later.
Researchers believe this is due to dark chocolate’s more excellent flavonoid content, which “may abruptly boost cognitive performance in humans.”
According to Naidoo, extra dark chocolate should contain at least 70% cacao or more.
“One meta-analysis shows that the ideal quantity of dark chocolate intake for the health of our blood arteries — including those that carry blood to the brain — is around 45 grams per week,” she adds, adding that don’t go crazy with the serving sizes.
according to Naidoo, are high in antioxidants, phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. “These nutrients aid memory retention, and the fiber component feeds gut bacteria, reducing brain inflammation.”
She recommends picking from a variety of red, blue, and blackberries. Strawberries, for example, are high in flavonoids, which may help delay cognitive decline; blueberries include various flavonoids associated with oxidative stress prevention; and blackberries are high in antioxidants, which support brain cell health.
“Eating a range of colored berries might help prevent neurodegenerative illnesses like dementia by reducing anxiety feelings,” adds Naidoo.
In her daily serving, she usually opts for a half or single cup.
- Curcumin (with black pepper)
Turmeric, one of the main components in curry powder, includes a molecule called curcumin, which is the key to its brain-boosting properties.
“Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory,” Naidoo explains. “Consuming it has been shown in trials to help lessen anxiety symptoms and slow cognitive deterioration.”
Turmeric is beneficial on its own, but when coupled with black pepper, it can amplify the benefits. “A sprinkle of black pepper with turmeric,” says Naidoo, “because piperine — the component found in black pepper — activates the curcumin and improves its bioavailability to the brain and body.”
Who may add turmeric and black pepper to a substantial rice dish, a side of potatoes, a golden milk latte, or some oatmeal to add to your nutrition?
- Leafy Greens
“Folate, a B vitamin that supports neurodevelopment and neurotransmitter function, is found in leafy greens, which is a staple in brain-healthy diets,” adds Naidoo. “Folate deficiency has been linked to increased depressive symptoms as well as cognitive aging.”
Her favorite leafy greens, according to Naidoo, are:
Dandelion greens with arugula
Swiss chard (spinach)
Are you a salad skeptic? You may also use them as a creative component in various meals, such as spaghetti, burritos, or pizza toppings.
- Consume fermented foods
Fermentation is combining meals with a colony of microbes that feed on the sugars in the food. Other compounds, such as lactic acid, are produced, which can produce gut-friendly bacteria.
“We have what’s known as a gut-brain connection,” Naidoo explains. “Eating fermented foods and improving our gut health may thus increase our cognitive performance.”
She enjoys snacking on homemade kimchi with celery sticks or mixing it into salads for added texture and taste. Naidoo also suggests the following fermented foods:
Large quantities of fermented foods, on the other hand, might cause bloating. “If you’re feeling nauseous, reduce your intake until your gut and body acclimate,” Naidoo suggests.
You’ll also want to double-check the food labels to be sure you’re getting fermented food. “Live active cultures” is usually mentioned on the label.
Lauren Armstrong is a nutritionist and dietitian. She also worked with the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program as a nutritionist. Lauren graduated from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and has contributed to many publications, including Livestrong and Health Day.
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