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Have you ever bumped into someone you know well but can’t recall their name? Frequently forget where you put your keys? Between stress and sleep deprivation we all experience those absentminded moments, but another culprit could be the lack of key nutrients tied to memory. These five foods can help you fill the gaps:

Celery
This crunchy staple may seem like a nutritional throwaway, but it actually contains an important mineral, potassium, which plays a key role in maintaining the electrical conductivity of the brain. Potassium is also involved in higher brain functions like memory and learning.

How to eat it: Slather on some natural peanut butter and sprinkle with raisins (old school ants on a log) for a quick snack that will satisfy your crunch tooth. Want a new twist to ants on a log? Try it with strawberries instead of raisins.

Cinnamon
Cinnamon improves the body's ability to regulate blood sugar and this aromatic spice also boosts brain activity. Research shows that just smelling cinnamon enhances cognitive processing and cinnamon has been shown to improve scores on tasks related to attention, memory and visual-motor speed.

How to eat it: I sprinkle some into my coffee every morning but it’s great in everything from a smoothie to lentil soup. 

Spinach
We know that mental performance normally declines with age, but the results of Chicago Health and Aging Project suggest that eating just 3 servings of green leafy, yellow and cruciferous vegetables each day could slow this decline by 40 percent, the equivalent of a brain that’s about five years younger. Of the different types of vegetables studied, green leafy veggies had the strongest association with brain protection.

How to eat it: Toss fresh baby leaves with balsamic vinaigrette for a simple two ingredient side dish or bed for grilled chicken, seafood, tofu or beans. Want something a little different?

Black beans
They’re a good source of thiamin. This B vitamin is critical for healthy brain cells and cognitive function because it’s needed for the synthesis of acetylcholine, the important neurotransmitter essential for memory. Low acetylcholine has been linked to age-related mental decline and Alzheimer's disease.

How to eat it: Pair a salad with black bean soup or enjoy them in place of meat in tacos and burritos or add them to extra lean burger patties.   

Asparagus
This spring veggie is a good source of folate. A study conducted at Tufts University followed about 320 men for three years and found that those who had high blood levels of homocysteine showed memory loss, but men who ate foods rich in folate (which directly lowers homocysteine levels) protected their memories. Another Australian study found that eating folate rich foods was associated with faster information processing and memory recall. After just five weeks of adequate folate, the women in the study showed overall improvements in memory.

How to eat it: Steam asparagus in lemon water or mist with garlic infused extra virgin olive oil and grill in foil. 


Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

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