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Brain-boosting nutrition

Nutritionists from the University of Maryland Medical System regularly contribute a guest post. The latest post is from Whitney Wallace.

We all know that eating right, getting regular physical activity and getting adequate sleep are important for overall health and healthy aging. However, did you know that there are foods that may improve your brain health?

Certain foods may help improve memory and alertness. Over time, these foods may also help keep the brain sharp and prevent cognitive decline during aging. Are you feeling forgetful, sluggish or mentally foggy? Give your brain a boost with these foods.

Omega-3 fatty acids

According to a 2012 study published in Nutritional Neuroscience, omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy type of fat that may improve memory and reduce the risk of cognitive decline or dementia. Decosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is abundant in the brain. To help keep your brain running smoothly, eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, on a regular basis.

The 2005 Dietary Reference Intakes recommend adult males consume 1.6 grams, and adult females consume 1.1 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily. People can reach this goal by eating 3-4 ounces of fatty fish at least twice each week. A 3-4 ounce serving of fish is about the size of a deck of cards. Fish rich in omega-3 fats are salmon, herring, tuna, sardines, mackerel and trout. Don't eat fish? You can also get omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil supplements or seaweed. Remember to ask your health care provider before taking fish oil or any other supplements.

Nuts

Nuts are also a powerful brain food. Nuts are packed with protein and heart-healthy fats, called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Regular nut consumption has been associated with higher cognitive function during aging, according to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Walnuts in particular may improve working memory.

On average, nuts provide about 180 calories per ounce, so enjoy them sparingly. A 1-ounce serving of nuts is about a quarter of a cup. Add a small amount of nuts to meals such as a stir-fry, cereal, oatmeal and salads to provide flavor, extra vitamins and minerals, and protein. Or snack on a handful of nuts to recharge your brain and satisfy hunger during the day.

Fruits and vegetables

In addition to many other benefits, fruits and vegetables may help improve memory function. Fruits and vegetables contain natural compounds called phytochemicals or phytonutrients. Phytochemicals help protect cells throughout the body, including the brain. Give your brain a boost with fruits and vegetables every day.

According to choosemyplate.gov, most adults need at least 1.5-2 servings of fruit daily and at least 2-3 servings of vegetables daily. Include fruits and vegetables with dark, rich colors to get the most brain-boosting benefits. For example, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and cherries may improve memory. Enjoy berries and other fruit as a snack, with meals or as a light dessert.

While all vegetables are great choices, dark vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beets, red peppers and dark leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, spinach and turnip greens pack an extra punch. Enjoy vegetables in a variety of ways — in salads, soups, sauces, salsas or raw snacks.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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