Feed Your Brain at Every Age

 By Wendy Bacigalupi-Bednarz, Editorial Contributor

There’s no such thing as a magic pill to make us smarter. But there are foods — brain foods — that can boost brain power through all stages of our lives. From prenatal stages to older adulthood, brain foods contain vital nutrients that can help nurture developing brains, enhance concentration and improve memory. While it’s not magic, plenty of evidence shows that smart food choices can lead to better brain function.

Brain Foods and Children

Even before birth, foods can begin enhancing brain development. Studies have connected prenatal consumption of foods containing the omega-3 fatty acid DHA with children who may perform better on cognitive tasks. Researchers believe DHA – which is found in fatty fish such as salmon, blue fin tuna and sardines, as well as fortified eggs and yogurt – helps in the formation of neurons.

“Fresh or canned wild salmon provides ample Omega 3s, healthy fats that decrease inflammation and enhance brain function,” says Orlando Health registered dietitian Lauren Popeck.

Iron is vital to a baby’s continued brain development. At about six months of age, babies deplete the iron storage they were born with, and it must be replenished through diet. Supplemental iron is found in solid foods such as fortified cereals.

School-aged children and teens can boost their brain power and improve focus by adding complex carbohydrates such as beans, peas, whole grains and vegetables to their diets.

Brain Boosters for Adults

In adulthood, about 10 percent of women are diagnosed with anemia. Recent studies suggest that iron-deficient anemia is related to learning, memory and attention deficits. A diet that includes beans, meats, soy and dark, leafy greens can help restore iron levels and cognitive function.

With more than five million Americans battling Alzheimer’s disease – a population that is expected to triple within 35 years—adults are more motivated than ever to defend their minds and cognitive abilities against aging. Nutritional allies in that battle include the antioxidants found in brightly colored fruits and leafy vegetables.

“Take your pick from blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, which are loaded with antioxidants that are good for your memory,” says Popeck. And don’t forget your spinach, which packs a brain-saving boost of B vitamins and folic acid. On a sweeter note, adds Popeck, dark chocolate (containing 80 percent or more cocoa) can improve mental focus and promote relaxation.

The Mind Diet

Americans who forgo red meat and fast foods in favor of healthier options could reduce their incidences of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 53 percent, according to research funded by the National Institute of Aging. Dubbed the MIND diet — short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay — it separates 10 brain-healthy food groups from five unhealthy food groups.

The good: Green, leafy vegetables and other vegetables, beans, berries, nuts, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine

The unhealthy: Red meats, cheese, butter and margarine, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast foods

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