I never used to write a shopping list; everything I needed was safely stored in my memory. These days I have to jot down things on a list that grows as the week progresses, or I am sure to return from the weekly shop minus several essentials. Increasingly, I also find that I walk into a room and have to take a few minutes to remember what I have come there for. It’s really very frustrating when you’ve always had a very good memory, but I have come to accept that moments of memory loss are just one of those things associated with ageing.
However, if like me you are also experiencing what people like to call ‘senior moments’, you’ll be pleased to hear that we can all do something to lessen the effect by adding more brainpower boosting foods to our diet.
Your brain needs energy; without it we can’t concentrate properly. A constant supply of glucose in the bloodstream increases our ability to focus, but we need a source that releases energy slowly and that source is wholegrains, such as wholegrain cereals, granary bread and brown rice or wholegrain pasta.
Scientific research has produced evidence that blueberries may delay and/or improve short-term memory loss. They contain a protective compound called anthocyanins. Although blueberries are more widely available now year round, if you can’t find any, nutritionists suggest you use substitutes, such as dark red and purple fruits and vegetables, which contain the same compound. Blackberries, cranberries, plums, prunes and aubergines all fall into this category.
Our bodies can’t make essential fatty acids (EFAs) so we have to consume them and the best source is oily fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and kippers. This isn’t much help to vegetarians and vegans, however, there are plenty of plant sources, such as linseed, pumpkin seeds, soya beans and walnuts. Plant-based omega-3 supplements are also available for those who don’t want to take animal-based omega-3 oil.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, which is thought to protect against the free radical cell damage that is one cause of dementia. To maximise the health benefits of tomatoes, it is better to eat them cooked – grilled tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil are just what the doctor ordered.
The B vitamins
Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid reduce homocysteine. Higher levels of this are associated with increased risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s. Apart from taking supplements, the best way to include more B vitamins in your diet is by eating chicken, fish, eggs and leafy greens like spinach and cabbage.
It’s something of a wonder vegetable, because it always seems to appear on lists of healthy foods. In terms of its ability to boost brainpower, it is its high vitamin K content that plays the leading role. This vitamin enhances cognitive function and helps the brain function more efficiently. Broccoli also contains a high percentage of glucosinolates. These slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which is essential for the central nervous system and to keep our brains and our memories sharp.
Apparently sage has long been associated with aiding memory and concentration. Most of the research studies into its efficacy have been done using essential oils, which suggests that burning sage aromatherapy oil on a regular basis will help. You can also add fresh sage to dishes, but only add it at the end of cooking to preserve its oil content.
Nuts are a great source of vitamin E, which also plays a role in preventing memory loss. Almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, chestnuts and pistachios are amongst the most beneficial.
These are all fairly standard foods that are widely available to us – there isn’t anything here that you’d call “weird and wonderful” as Irish people like to say. Remember to put them on your shopping list – I’m writing them down now!