Powerful compounds in certain foods work overtime to keep your body and brain strong, new research shows. Here’s what to load up on.

By Pam O’Brien
July 12, 2019
Jamie Grill/Getty Images

You know calcium is good for your bones, Vitamin B is important for energy, and magnesium can do wonders for your fitness, but there are many more powerful compounds found in foods that keep your body and brain strong.

Here, meet three that have flown under the radar—anthocyanins, vitamin K, and allyl sulfide—plus get the DL on their benefits and how to get them without popping pills.

Allyl sulfide

Found in garlic, this compound can keep your brain sharp by helping prevent age-related changes in the gut bacteria that are linked to memory problems, according to a new study at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “The diversity of our gut’s good microbiome wanes as we get older,” says Neetu Tyagi, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator. As that happens, our memory diminishes. In an animal study, Tyagi and her team found that mice that had received allyl sulfide had better long- and short-term memory and healthier gut bacteria than those that didn’t receive the substance.

To reap the benefits, it’s best to eat garlic raw, studies show. Chop it and let it sit for 10 minutes; this will lead to allyl sulfide production. Then throw the garlic in salad dressings, sauces, and dips, says Shape Brain Trust member Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., the author of The Superfood Swap. (Related: The Top 10 Healthy Foods to Always Have On Your Grocery List)

Vitamin K

This nutrient doesn’t get a lot of headlines, but it plays a vital role in building our bones and keeping them strong, studies find. K also helps prevent heart disease.

Aim for at least 90 micrograms of K daily, Jackson Blatner says. Good sources include greens like spinach (one cup raw has 145 micrograms) and kale (113 micrograms in one cup raw). Fat increases the absorption of this vitamin, so drizzle your leafy greens with olive oil. (Related: Vitamin D Benefits That’ll Make You Take the Nutrient More Seriously)

Anthocyanins

Sprinkle some berries on your morning yogurt—they contain anthocyanins, special substances that fight inflammation. These compounds, which give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors and flavors, can also reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, research shows.

Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, red cabbage, and radishes are especially rich in anthocyanins, Jackson Blatner says. Add them liberally to your salads and smoothies. (Related: What Is Carrageenan and Is It Safe?)

Shape Magazine, July/August 2019 issue
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