7 Superfoods and the Science Behind ThemTweet
Among today’s many healthy eating trends, so-called superfoods have gained popularity for their higher concentration of nutrients – especially fatty acids and antioxidants – important for maintaining good health. But could these superfoods really lead to a healthier brain?
Researchers around the world are performing tests to understand the possible benefits. While we do not yet understand exactly how superfoods help, the evidence suggests they do plenty to improve brain health and function. Here are some superfoods worth looking for on your next visit to the grocery store.
Walnuts have a great mixture of nutrients that promote brain health. They are rich with linoleic and alpha-linoleic acid, two fatty acids that are used to coat neurons, grow neurites (offshoots of the neuron’s body that enhances connections between cells), and aid cells’ survival as the body ages.
Walnuts are also filled with antioxidants, protecting against brain inflammation, and melatonin, a chemical that regulates circadian rhythm.
Blueberries are a great source for anthocyanids. A kind of antioxidant, anthocyanids influence the signaling mechanism between cells. Scientists believe this interaction is critical in the body’s fight against “free radicals” – atoms or molecules with an unpaired electron that cause damage to biological structures. They also stop production of harmful molecules that cause inflammation and the death of neighboring cells.
Green tea is filled with catechins, another family of antioxidants. Catechin helps release enzymes in the brain that, like anthocyanids, neutralize free radicals.
Studies have also shown that drinking green tea can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. The antioxidants in green tea block the creation of neurotoxins and cell toxins created by degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Salmon is a very good source of DHA, a fatty acid derived from linoleic acid. DHA has likely played an important role in human history; it is believed that eating fish filled with DHA has helped the brain grow so large over the course of our evolution.
Today DHA continues to play a key role in developing new brain cells in both children and adults. It serves as part of the lipid membrane for nerve cells and helps in neurite and synapse growth, increasing connections in the brain. It also allows neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine to efficiently send signals across neurons.
Lentils contain vitamin B6 and folate, nutrients that help genome regulation keep working. Without these vitamins the genome regulation’s metabolic cycle makes errors, and toxic molecules called homocysteine develop.
Make sure to soak lentils overnight and then cook them. They are a great addition to salads and stews.
Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, is rich in flavan-3-ols, another group of antioxidants. Flavan-3-ols increase blood flow and oxygen levels, aiding both the brain and heart. Cocoa also contains copper, essential for enzymes in the brain, and important for neuron development.
Curcumin, a chemical in turmeric, affects brain plasticity. It stops the degradation of fat molecules in the brain and neutralizes free radicals. Studies show that curcumin reduces memory loss in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as patients who are suffering from brain injuries.
At high levels curcumin has a few side effects, the most common being an upset stomach. However, moderate consumption used when spicing up a meal is usually fine.
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