The Best Eating Habits for Memory Loss, Say Experts
Forgetting what you had for lunch or misplacing your keys doesn't mean you're losing your marbles. We all forget stuff like the names of acquaintances we happen upon at the grocery store.
Memory issues to worry about involve those that interfere with normal daily life, which one in nine Americans aged 45 and older say they've experienced, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Analyzing self-reported survey data, researchers found that 11% of those adults complained of more frequent confusion or memory loss within the previous 12 months, and 51% of those folks said cognitive decline limited their ability to function.
While concerns about your memory should be discussed with your doctor, there are some things you can do to support good brain health, memory, and cognitive functioning, and you can start by picking up a fork.
"It's becoming clear that a healthy diet can help create a healthy mind," says psychologist and registered dietitian Ellen Albertson, RD, PhD. "A new field of study called nutritional psychiatry is evolving to help understand how gut health and diet can have a positive or negative impact on mood and cognitive functioning."
To find out how, we asked dietitians and other nutrition experts for tips on eating habits you can adopt to stay sharp in body and mind. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don't miss The #1 Best Juice to Drink Every Day, Says Science.
Order more salmon and salad.
Memory and cognitive function cannot be preserved by healthy eating alone, but foods like fatty fish and leafy greens are full of vitamins and nutrients that can help improve brain health, says psychiatrist Bryan Bruno, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. "The omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon and cod are linked to decreased levels of beta-amyloid, helping prevent Alzheimer's disease by slowing the formation of harmful brain clumps," says the medical director of Mid-City TMS, a center focused on treating depression. "Leafy greens like broccoli, kale, and spinach are full of brain-boosting nutrients like vitamin K, folate, and lutein, slowing cognitive decline and improving brain function," Dr. Bruno says.
Have a second helping of prebioitcs.
"The potential to boost mood and treat conditions including anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer's disease by altering the composition of the microbiome is huge," says the psychologist and dietitian Albertson, author of Rock Your Midlife. You do that by consuming prebiotics, indigestible carbohydrate compounds (mostly fiber), which pass through your digestive tract and support the healthy bacteria in your gut.
"Prebiotics are found in a variety of plant foods from fruits and vegetables to beans, seeds, and grains," says Albertson. "Good choices include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, apples, bananas, legumes, tomatoes, soybeans, flaxseed, chicory root, barley, and oats." Other foods that help create a healthier microbiome are fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha. Research shows that drinking green tea may also promote a well-balanced gut.
Dine on the Mediterranean.
Among the best eating habits for avoiding memory loss is following the Mediterranean-style diet, a pattern of eating that includes primarily plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and healthy fats like olive oil. "The Mediterranean diet pattern is well-researched and has been shown to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia," says registered dietitian nutritionist Mary Wirtz, MS, RDN, a consultant for the parenting website Mom Loves Best.
Try spinach omelets for breakfast.
The reason dietitians advocate plant-based diets for brain health is that they are associated with lower blood sugar levels—that's because elevated glucose damages blood vessels that bring nutrient-rich blood to the brain. But that doesn't mean you need to eliminate animal foods.
Many animal foods are rich in choline, a nutrient similar to B vitamins, that benefits the brain. "Choline supports the hippocampus, that part of the brain that stores memories," says registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan. "Estrogen is necessary for choline production and research suggests that dietary choline requirements increase after menopause. The body makes choline, but not enough, so it's essential to get it through foods like eggs, lean meat, poultry, seafood, and soy."
A spinach omelet is a smart choice for a brain-forward breakfast because egg yolks and spinach (as well as kale and corn) are good sources of lutein. "Lutein is the predominant carotenoid in the hippocampus, and lutein levels are associated with cognitive function," says Ward.
Maximize on magnesium.
Even if you have a great memory, you'll want to eat magnesium-rich foods. The mineral is contained in every cell of the body and is critical for carrying out many important functions. And if you suffer from migraines, taking magnesium supplements or getting more of the mineral through food may ease your headaches, doctors say. Magnesium is important for brain health, too. "The mineral not only works within the brain for mood and cognitive support but also outside of the brain in blood vessels," says Trista Best, RD, a registered dietitian at Balance Once Supplements. "It acts as a vasodilator to increase blood flow to the brain." Best recommends tofu, nuts, avocado, legumes, and dark chocolate as some excellent magnesium-rich foods to add to your diet.
Replace processed foods with whole foods.
You won't find one single food that's best to eat for optimum brain function. Instead, focus on eating a collection of plant-based whole foods, which should hopefully crowd out processed foods from your diet. "The negative effects of processed foods are far-reaching and likely affect our mental health, inflammatory load, and cognitive health; all three are related and appear to be harmed by long-term consumption of processed foods," says Anthony Kaveh, MD of MedicalSecretsMD.com. "The best foods for brain health tend to mirror the best foods for heart health," says Dr. Kaveh, recommending foods like leafy greens, beans, olive oil, sweet potatoes, oranges, and whole grains.
Snack on walnuts.
You're human; you're going to snack. So, make sure you munch on the right stuff. "Nuts, especially walnuts, are a great source of protein and healthy fats that improve memory. "They have omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid that clean brain arteries and hence, help promote brain health," says Mark Davis, MD, of the medical diagnostic lab Pacific Analytics. The enemies of your brain are fried foods, sugary products, and red meat if you overindulge. "These foods trigger inflammation that damages the blood vessels of your brain, which increases your risk of developing dementia and affecting cognitive abilities." Overeating or binge eating is detrimental to brain health, too, he says. "The diseases of overeating, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease are believed to cause Alzheimer's and other brain illnesses."
For more ways to keep your brain youthful, avoid these Eating Habits Aging Your Body By a Decade, Say Dietitians.