21 Foods That Boost Your Focus And Memory

21 Foods That Boost Your Focus And Memory

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If you could change your diet, even just a little bit, to improve the performance of your brain, or to protect it from aging, would you do it? Of course you would, that’s why you’re reading this article. Take a look at these suggestions and adopt as many as you can into your daily routine. (Beer is #17.)

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1. Blueberries

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Lovingly called, “brainberries,” blueberries are antioxidant powerhouses. Specifically, blueberries contain an antioxidant called anthocyanins. Not only do anthocyanins give fruits their vibrant purple or reddish color, research suggests they have the ability to enhance memory and help prevent age-related declines in mental functioning. They have effectively reversed age-related deficits in certain aspects of working memory. It’s believed that anthocyanins and other flavonoids activate synaptic signaling in brain cells, improve blood flow to the brain, and inhibit neuroinflammation. Grab a handful for breakfast and you’re good to go.

2. Blackberries

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Like blueberries, blackberries also contain anthocyanins. This antioxidant gives these cluster berries their color and when consumed, improves the communication between neurons–specialized nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that transmit messages. When you eat blackberries (or blueberries for that matter) these antioxidants can help improve your memory, learning, and cognitive functions like reasoning, decision making, verbal comprehension and numerical ability. A recent review of antioxidant-rich foods even suggests that foods high in flavonoids (see #5), like anthocyanins, could limit or even reverse age-dependent deteriorations in memory and cognition.
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3. Plums

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Plums can keep your bones strong, cure your constipation and help your brain stay sharp. This fruit is full of antioxidants that have been shown to slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The future prune also contains anthocyanin, giving the fruit its color and brain-boosting benefits you read about with blackberries and blueberries. Plums can also claim quercetin, another antioxidant that prevents brain cells from breaking down and also stops inflammation. Scientists credit inflammation as the root cause of most diseases including heart disease, cancer, and cognitive decline.

4. Celery

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Celery, the crunchy stalks served aside spicy buffalo wings or topped with peanut butter and chocolate chips (ants on a log), it turns out is quite good for the brain. This vegetable is a rich source of luteolin, a plant compound that one study linked with lowering rates of age-related memory loss. The reason is that luteolin seems to calm inflammation in the brain. Experts believe this to be the number one cause of neurodegeneration…the death and decay of neurons, the cells that transmit messages to and from the brain. Peppers and carrots are also good sources of luteolin.
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5. Strawberries

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Strawberries pack fiber to clear out your insides and antioxidants to clear out any free radicals, unstable electrons that damage cells. Antioxidants, like those in strawberries, prevent damage by attaching to free radical electrons and escorting them out. Strawberries also have powerful flavonoids (plant nutrients) that are believed to help neurons transmit vital signals between the body and the brain. The flavonoids also help the neurons continue to function as we get older. Researchers found that older adults who ate strawberries at least once a month had less cognitive decline. David Grotto, a licensed dietician and nutritionist, cleverly points out that eating strawberries is SMART: Strawberry’s Marvelous Antioxidants Repair Thinking.

6. Red Wine

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Do you know the saying, “An apple a day…”? Well, “A glass of wine a day…” might not be a bad thing either. Red wine comes from red grapes, and red grapes contain a unique antioxidant in the skin called resveratrol. It is an antioxidant that has been called the “fountain of youth” because it appears to slow down aging and help protect your brain and nervous system. Researchers at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University showed that resveratrol increases blood flow to your brain. This is a key to keeping your brain function healthy. A study done at Georgetown University Medical Center showed that red wine can even stop the progression of Alzheimer’s. Cheers.

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7. Turmeric

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Turmeric is popular in Indian and Caribbean cuisine. This spice boasts the anti-inflammatory antioxidant, curcumin, which according to research findings may help inhibit the accumulation of harmful beta amyloids. These are amino acids that clump together in the brain forming plaques, and they are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Turmeric, with curcumin, might stop this, at least to some extent. Curcumin has also been shown to boost memory and stimulate the production of new brain cells. You can add turmeric to your eggs, rice or soup, or try mixing it in with roasted veggies.

8. Garbanzo Beans

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Let’s look at two foods that are high in a mineral that single-handedly boosts brain power. It’s the mineral that the Director of the Center for Learning and Memory at Tsinghua University in Beijing said could enhance cognitive abilities. This mineral is good for your bones, your heart and of course, your brain, credited with improving multiple aspects of memory and learning. The mineral is magnesium, and when you eat garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, you get 28% of the daily recommended amount. If you eat hummus, a chickpea derivative, the amount of magnesium decreases to 17%.
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9. Almonds

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Almonds are high in fat—the healthy fat; the fat that research shows is linked to improved memory as well as better overall cognitive function. When it comes to magnesium, a handful of almonds deliver 67% of the daily recommended amount. That’s raw or roasted. Even though almonds provide a high quantity of magnesium, and close to the recommended daily amount, the study at Tsinghua University showed that more is better. The authors state consuming more magnesium above the recommended daily amount has a dramatic effect on improving multiple aspects of memory and learning. Age did not matter. For more on almonds (and walnuts) see #21.

10. Wild Salmon

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Sixty percent of your brain is composed of fatty acids. There are different types of fatty acids, but your brain craves the omega-3 variety…and salmon is full of it. This essential fatty acid is essential for brain function, protecting the neurons (brain cells) and helping impulses (messages) travel from neuron to neuron at super-fast speeds. When your boss asks you a question, you don’t want to stand there with a dumb look on your face as the messages limp from synapse to synapse. One of the omega-3 acids in salmon is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Plentiful DHA in the diet improves learning ability. The opposite is true, too. Other oily fish that provide omega-3 benefits are sardines and herring.
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11. Avocado

Sliced avocado on a cutting board
Known as a super food, these amazing fruits do wonders for your body and for your brain. They lower cholesterol. They help antioxidants to get absorbed in the body. They increase blood flow to the brain. Let’s not forget the antioxidants in the avocado itself that protects your brain from damage-driven free radicals. The goldmine of nutrients in these drupe fruits can also help improve your memory and focus. On the defensive side, avocados may also reduce the risk of suffering a stroke, and its folate and monounsaturated fats might prevent the precursors to developing Alzheimer’s.

12. Coconut Oil

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According to neurologist and author of Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter, coconut oil is part of his “anti-Alzheimer’s trio.” The other two components: avocado and grass-fed beef (next slide). The fatty oil obtained from the flesh of the coconut contains medium chain triglycerides, fats that are produced when coconut oil is processed. These fats fuel the brain and are a good source of fat for people who cannot tolerate other types of fat. Of its handful of health benefits, researchers believe that MCTs slow cognitive decline and produce chemicals in the body that may help fight Alzheimer’s.
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13. Vitamin B12

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As people get older, some unfortunately experience brain shrinkage. As a result, thinking is difficult, problem solving becomes overly challenging, and memory falters. Vitamin B12 may prevent this. Researchers in one study found that people who had higher vitamin B12 levels in their blood were six times less likely to experience brain shrinkage than people with lower levels. You can get ample B12 from beef, beef liver and salmon. (Aim for grass-fed beef.) In smaller quantities, B12 is in bananas, dates, greens, peanuts, sprouts and raw sunflower seeds. But some medications may diminish its effectiveness. The best advice: get your B12 level checked and start consuming the vitamin as early as possible.

14. Apples

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When in doubt, eat an apple. This fruit can help your body in so many ways, from preventing colds to quelling reflux. Experts also say eating apples will help you think clearly and improve your memory. Apples contain flavonoids called quercetin. If you remember (ha ha), flavonoids are plant-based nutrients, and they are very helpful to human health. Quercetin, specifically, is an antioxidant that prevents brain cells from breaking down and also stops inflammation. Eating apples regularly could protect your brain from the damage that leads to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but choose organic to avoid the pesticides. Now let’s get to the fun foods on the list.

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15. Dark Chocolate

Chocolate Shavings Background

Eating dark chocolate can improve blood flow to the brain which, in turn, can boost your short-term memory, attention span, reaction time and problem-solving skills. It can also prevent mental decline in seniors. Pure cocoa is the best for your brain, but it is also pretty bitter. Dark chocolate—the darker the better—delivers the bennies too, if it contains at least 85% cocoa. Then it will have healthful and helpful antioxidants that can prevent the onset of dementia…and magnesium that boosts brain power as well. Don’t fall for “white” chocolate or brown chocolate. For the health benefits, eat dark chocolate.

16. Coffee

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Caffeine is responsible for keeping us awake, but there’s more. Caffeine allows dopamine and glutamate to circulate more freely, and these chemicals give you that awake “buzz” feeling that helps you work (or just function). Not only that, caffeine, says a study out of Johns Hopkins University, can boost a person’s memory of new information by about 10%. No wonder college students thrive on a cup of joe. (Or six.) But uh-oh, to get the optimal effect of the caffeine, it’s best to limit your intake to 300 mg per day. That’s one cup! Other research has linked coffee and caffeine to better decision making, focus, recall, and attention span.
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17. Beer

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By this point, you’ve raided your cupboard and gobbled up a handful of almonds, dipped strawberries in guacamole and chewed on some dark chocolate. Now it’s time to wash it down with a cold beer. Hops are one of the basic ingredients in beer brewing. It is the flower of a plant and contains a flavonoid called xanthohumol. This bioactive antioxidant is 200 times more powerful than resveratrol, the antioxidant in red wine. In tests, xanthohumol has shown to boost cognitive function and flexibility and is hoped to stave off Alzheimer’s, although there is nothing to support this yet. There’s one caveat with the current research that has been done. All the studies were performed on mice.

18. Spinach

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Spinach is one vegetable that has nutritional value that is disproportionate to its weight with vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotene that may slow the effects of aging on the brain. Researchers at Rush University in Chicago conducted a decade-long study, evaluating the diet and mental ability of around 950 older people each year for two to ten years. They found that adults who ate spinach (or kale) once or twice a day had significantly less cognitive decline than those who did not eat leafy vegetables. On average, the greens slowed the folks’ mental decline by an average of 11 years.
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19. Beans

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Beans are excellent sources of protein. Protein helps the neurons in the brain communicate quickly and efficiently with one another. Protein also raises the level of tyrosine, an amino acid that causes the production of other chemicals that promote mental alertness and activity. Another benefit is that beans, because of their high fiber content, stabilize glucose levels. The brain is fueled by glucose, but it can’t store the sugar. So beans provide a steady stream of energy. They’ll also supply a steady stream of flatulence if you don’t first wash off the sauce. ½ cup a day should keep you sharp. (If you eat kidney beans, like pictured here, make sure you cook them.)

20. Green Tea

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The polyphenols in this tea are powerful antioxidants that may protect against Parkinson’s and other brain disorders. These polyphenols can help boost dopamine, a neurotransmitter that not only puts you in a good state of mind, but is thought to play a significant role in the body’s motivation and decision-making ability. Like beans, green tea also provides the brain with a steady supply of glucose, the brain’s main fuel. Tannins, another set of compounds in green tea, are believed to prevent damage to the brain after strokes or other brain injuries.

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21. Walnuts And Almonds

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A 2012 report stated that eating walnuts as part of a Mediterranean diet was linked with improved memory and better brain function. They’re also thought to help young adults with inferential reasoning. Walnuts are an excellent source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are vital to brain and nerve function as well as possibly protecting from age-related decline. Almonds are considered one of the best brain foods, possibly because of their unique combo of riboflavin and L-carnitine. These nutrients assist neurological activity and prevent cognitive decline. (You already know about the magnesium.) Almonds also reduce the risk of inflammation that can cause disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
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