"The human brain is probably more sensitive to food than any other organ," says Ann Kulze, M.D., a nutrition expert and the author of "Eat Right for Life." "The same nutrients that are good for the brain are good for the heart, partly because the brain depends on healthy arteries, too." Eating to feed your gray matter will also help to whittle down your waistline -- great news, since carrying extra weight is bad for the brain. Studies have shown that when people become overweight they're at increased risk for memory problems, says John Gunstad, associate professor of psychology at Kent State University. "We're not sure if it's something to do with being heavy itself or the consequences of it, like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and inflammation -- none of which are good for the brain," says Gunstad.
"The brain processes a tremendous amount of oxygen, so it's extremely vulnerable to oxidative stress from free radicals," says Kulze. Since antioxidants help mop up free radicals, it's important to eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of green tea. Animal studies have found that blueberries significantly improved the learning capacity of aging rats. Other antioxidant-packed goodies: berries, pomegranates, apples, grapes, cherries, garlic, red cabbage, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, dark chocolate, and red wine.
Wild salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and dark leafy greens all contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are hard to get from our modern food supply, but vital for the brain, according to Kulze. "If you removed all the water from your brain, 60 percent of what remained would be fat -- but it's good, functional fat that protects the neurons and helps the brain function," she says. As a result, healthy fats are a must. Canola oil, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are other good sources.
Broccoli, almonds, and cashews are high in the mineral, so indulge frequently. Deficiencies can contribute to age-related memory decline, according to recent research, so it's important to make sure your diet contains rich sources of the substance.
Eat some with every meal. "Protein supplies amino acids that are essential for healthy brain function," says Kulze.