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Feed your mind

A diet packed with nutritious foods can keep you slim, energetic and less prone to diabetes, heart disease and stroke. But do you know certain foods can keep your brain in tip-top shape, too?

Like the rest of your body, your brain is better armed to fight age-related decline with proper care and feeding. The right foods can:

  • protect brain cells
  • reduce inflammation and curb the plaque buildup in the brain that’s associated with Alzheimer’s disease
  • improve brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other

To keep your brain functioning optimally as long as possible, look no further than your next meal or snack and make sure your diet includes these foods:

Deeply colored fruits and vegetables

Why? Fruits and veggies have antioxidants that protect and nourish brain cells and prevent plaque that damages blood vessels and slows blood flow to the brain. Fruits and vegetables also provide fiber, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels—too much blood sugar can impair your thinking abilities.

Go for: Colorful fruits and veggies such as berries, spinach, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, prunes and tomatoes, which contain the most antioxidants. Research shows cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower stall age-related memory loss. Blueberries and purple grape juice fight cell damage and inflammation.

Cold-water fish

Why: Cold-water fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which keep the membranes of neurons (nerve cells in the brain) flexible, improving communication between cells and promoting your ability to learn and remember. Omega-3 fatty acids include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Studies on rats show omega-3 fats help fight dementia.

Go for: Salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines. If you don’t like fish, eat flaxseed and walnuts. They’re rich in alpha-linolenic acid, which your body can convert to EPA. Or ask your doctor about taking a fish-oil supplement.

Vitamin B–rich carbohydrates

Why: Carbohydrates are rich in B vitamins like niacin and folic acid, which fight inflammation and promote new brain-cell growth. Carbohydrates also supply the glucose (sugar) your brain needs to fuel itself.

Go for: Beans; legumes; and whole-grain cereal, bread and pasta. (Fruits and leafy green vegetables also contain B vitamins.) Schedule regular meals and snacks so you can maintain a steady supply of energy for your brain.

Choline-rich foods

Why? Choline is a fatlike B vitamin used to form acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, that’s essential for maintaining a good memory.

Go for: Eggs (the choline’s in the yolks), organ meats and legumes.

What not to eat

Avoid foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy, and trans fatty acids, found in many processed foods. These clog arteries and increase your risk for dementia. Skip the candy, cookies, crackers, soda and snack foods high in sugar, refined white flour or fat. While steady blood sugar levels promote a healthy brain, the brief blast of glucose from many snack foods damages your thinking abilities.