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Foods that Help Fight Dementia

Studies have shown that diet can play a key role in maintaining memory, and even a moderately healthy diet can reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

A lack of vitamin B12, for instance, is associated with memory loss and dementia, and diets high in vegetables have been shown to reduce, or even reverse, age-related memory loss. Many brain-boosting fruits and vegetables are available year-round. But if you think that fresh fruits and veggies are at their best in the summer months, you’re wrong! Some are at their peak in winter, but many are still in season throughout autumn.

Which memory-enhancing fruits and vegetables stand out from the pack? And what is the secret ingredient that holds the key to maintaining memory?

The latest research touts the MIND diet , which is similar to both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (recommended for combatting high blood pressure). The MIND diet recommends plenty of:

  • Vegetables, especially green leafy ones
  • Nuts
  • Berries (especially blueberries)
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil

And suggests limiting:

  • Red meat
  • Butter and stick margarine
  • Cheese
  • Pastries and sweets
  • Fried or fast food

Phytochemical Power

You’ll notice a lot of plant-based foods on the healthy-food list. Plants contain compounds called phytochemicals, and two in particular are associated with improving memory and brain functioning: anthocyanins and quercetin. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give berries, cherries, beets, black and red grapes, and red cabbage their deep colors; they’re also found in the peels of eggplant and red apples. Quercetin is found in onions, berries, currants, apricots, and red and black grapes. Folate is a B vitamin that’s associated with memory retention. It’s found in green leafy vegetables (think “foliage”) and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale.

What to Look for in the Supermarket

At the market, look for deeply colored produce with firm leaves. Kale and other greens, including broccoli, should be deep green with no yellowing (a purple tinge is fine); cabbages, cauliflower, and beets should feel firm and heavy for their size; Brussels sprouts should also be tightly furled.

Cooking Crucifers

There’s no denying that crucifers are strongly flavored veggies. You may be quite sure you don’t like them, but if you’re willing to give them another chance, skip steaming or boiling and try roasting them instead. Roasting caramelizes their sugars, giving them a deeper, sweeter flavor. Cut Brussels sprouts into quarters or break broccoli or cauliflower into florets and arrange in a shallow pan. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then roast in a 425°F oven until tender and browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.

You can also sauté the greens (Tip: don’t discard them from beets or turnips). Remove and discard any thick stems and cut tender stems and the leaves into smallish pieces. Heat some olive oil in a deep skillet and, if you like, sauté finely chopped garlic until it’s fragrant. Add the stems and sauté briefly, then add a handful or two of the leaves and stir to coat with oil; when they have wilted somewhat, add another handful. Stir in some slivered almonds or pine nuts or even golden raisins and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.

Omega-3 Fats

Don’t forget to round out your dinner plate with a hearty dose of omega-3 fats, which have many additional health benefits and can also help to power your brain. Best sources are: fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines and albacore tuna; nuts, such as flaxseed and walnuts; and oils, including soybean, canola, and flaxseed oils.

Superfoods Checklist

Foods high in anthocyanins (for memory and brain functioning)

  • Beets
  • Berries (especially blueberries, cranberries, boysenberries, and raspberries)
  • Black and red grapes
  • Blood oranges
  • Cherries
  • Red cabbage
  • Red apples and eggplants (unpeeled)

Foods high in quercetin (for memory and brain functioning)

  • Apricots
  • Berries
  • Currants
  • Onions
  • Red and black grapes

Foods that contain folate (for memory retention)

  • Asparagus
  • Beets and beet greens
  • Citrus fruit and juices
  • All cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and kale
  • Dried beans, peas, and lentils
  • Lettuce, especially romaine
  • Spinach

Best sources for omega 3s (for brain health)

  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and albacore tuna
  • Nuts such as flaxseed and walnuts
  • Oils including soybean, canola, and flaxseed oils

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