Boost Your Brain Power

Brain Power

What you eat isn't only fuel for your body, it's also fuel for your brain.

We've all heard "use it or lose it." This is especially true when it comes to protecting your brain's cognitive health. Cognitive health refers to healthy brain function, and to the skills people use everyday, such as: the ability to learn, remember, make decisions, think abstractly, reason, and even appreciate beauty. However, many Americans don't pay attention to their brain health, which can potentially lead to poor health, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.

By simply following a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle, you can help maintain optimal cognitive functioning.

Foods that enhance brain health

Studies show that an estimated one out of five Americans between the ages of 75 and 84 years old have Alzheimer's disease. Even though there isn't a cure for Alzheimer's, researchers have discovered that consuming nutrient-dense, brain-boosting foods; keeping physically active; controlling blood sugar and blood pressure; and using your brain may lower your risk of Alzheimer's and dementia.

Vitamins and minerals
Because B vitamins are vital for normal brain and nerve function, it's vital to supplement your diet with ample amounts of B vitamins. Evidence suggests that low blood levels of B vitamins, such as B1, B6, B12, and folic acid (or folate), may be linked to cognitive impairment. Thiamin (B1) helps maintain proper function of the nerves, muscles, heart, and brain. Pyridoxine (B6) helps use energy in the brain and nervous tissues, which is essential for regulating the central nervous system. Cobalamin (B12) is used in new cell synthesis and cell growth, and helps maintain the sheath (coating) that surrounds and protects nerve fibers.

TIP: For great sources of B1, B6, and folic acid, select whole grains, legumes, fortified cereals, beans, peas, strawberries, spinach, sunflower seeds, bananas, and tomatoes. You can find B12 in lean beef, trout, salmon, tuna, pork, chicken, eggs, and low-fat dairy.

TIP: Minerals, such as iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium are also known to help maximize brain function. Lean beef, beans, lentils, and other whole grains are all great sources of iron. Dairy products and dark leafy green vegetables are wonderful, natural sources of calcium. Plus, leafy greens are another way to include magnesium in your diet.

Fatty acids

Essential fatty acids are the most critical components to boosting brain power. Your brain is made up of approximately 60 percent fat. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is the most prominent fat in the brain, especially in the nerve cells in the cerebral cortex. A 2006 study in the medical journal Neurology for nine years tracked 899 healthy men and women who were free of dementia. The study found that those with the highest blood levels of DHA from fish intake of three servings per week had about half the risk of dementia compared to those with lower levels.

TIP: You can find DHA in fatty fish, cod liver oil, and algae. Many health food stores, including Henry's Farmers Markets, also sell Omega 3 enriched eggs, which contain more than 150mg of DHA per egg.


The brain relies on high-quality proteins to maintain a strong support system. Select lean beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid any protein that has been fried — which includes meat, chicken, or fish — because fried foods have higher amounts of saturated fats. New research from the University of Toronto shows that diets high in saturated fats starve the brain of its energy supply.

TIP: Always select organic and grass-fed beef whenever possible because pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and synthetic hormones may have a dramatic impact on cognitive functions.

Organic foods are produced from agricultural products grown on farms and livestock operations that promote the health of the ecosystem, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and biological activity in the soil.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic foods are grown without pesticides, petroleum- or sewage sludge-based fertilizers, bio-engineering, or ionizing radiation. Grass-fed beef is also known to have higher levels of essential fatty acids, vitamin E, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventional grain-fed beef. Studies show that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) helps burn stored body fat and promotes the use of the stored fat for energy.

Brain-enhancing lifestyles

Physical activity can also protect your cognitive functions. According to researchers at Columbia University, people who engage in an exercise training program increase neurogenesis — the development of new nerve cells. There is also emerging evidence that physical activity may protect against neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's and dementia.

Keeping your mind active can help decrease your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A study conducted at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago tracked more than 700 seniors for up to five years. The researchers discovered that the seniors who regularly engaged in frequent cognitive activity had a reduced incidence of Alzheimer's versus the seniors who were cognitively inactive. The inactive group was 2.6 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than a cognitively active person.

If you are overweight, have high blood pressure, or have high sugar levels you have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. In a published report from the American Academy of Neurology, mid-life stroke victims risk poorer cognitive function and late-life cognitive impairment. By maintaining and controlling your blood sugar and blood-pressure levels, you reduce the risk of diabetes and untreated hypertension, which are also contributing factors to dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Brain-boosting supplements

Acetylcarnitine, a nutrient formed in the body by attaching acetyl groups to an amino acid carnitine, is a nutritent that has been shown to revitalize brain function. Several studies suggest that taking Acetylcarnitine supplements delays cognitive decline and improves overall brain function, especially in seniors.

Taking 1,500 mg of Acetylcarnitine a day can improve memory, mood, and responses to stress. Acetylcarnitine is not found in food, so a taking a supplement is your only option.

TIP: When faced with a choice between getting your nutrition from your diet or from a supplement, food is almost always the better choice. Get your nutrition first from your diet, then fill in the gaps with supplements.

Phosphatidylserine (PS) has been shown to improve memory, cognition, and mood in seniors. Human trials indicate that PS improves the retention levels of those who previously misplaced objects and struggled to remember names, faces, and phone numbers. The suggested dose of PS is 300 mg per day.

Fish oil supplements are important for a healthy brain and nervous system. Most fish oil capsules you find at health food stores come from fresh, cold-water fish and are free from contaminates such as pesticides, PCBs, and heavy metals. Taking fish oil capsules daily, about 1,000 mg to 3,000 mg, is a great alternative if you don't consume a lot of Omega 3-rich fish.

Please note: These recommendations are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. If you're taking medication, please talk to your healthcare provider before taking any type of supplement.

Every day you have the power to make healthy choices that affect you and your cognitive health.

Henry's Farmers Market Nutritionist Janet Little, is a certified nutritionist with more than 20 years of experience in the health food industry. Janet has extensive knowledge in foods and nutrition and she is also educated in vitamins and minerals, herbal solutions, and homeopathic remedies. As a nutritional speaker and educator, Janet enjoys helping people make healthier food choices and encouraging people to live active lifestyles.