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You forget where you left your car or house keys. Everything your boss is saying went in one ear and out the other. It happens to the best of us. Stress, age and life as a whole can lead to loss of concentration, forgetfulness and more serious memory loss, but adding a few good things to your diet can strengthen your thinking cap. “We have to make diet a priority over work,” says Thom Zwawa, a personal trainer, certified nutrition coach and the creator of Fitness de Cuisine. “If we prioritize food over work, we work better because our brains are functioning better.” Good fats, whole grains, dark berries and other fruits—even something as simple as water—can help combat age- or stress-related memory loss and lack of concentration.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACID
Think About Absorbing Oils
Eat more fat—the good kind. Incorporating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids promotes healthier brain function. In fact, 40 percent of the fatty acid in the brain, used for transmitting signals between cells, is made up of DHA, the same chemical found in fish oil. A study from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine found that omega-3 acids helped reduce inflammation in the brain and can protect against the buildup of the amyloid plaques, or blockage in the brain, which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Snack on more plant-based omega fatty acids like nuts throughout the day, lunch on avocado salad or add salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna or some sardines on your pizza. “People don’t realize that when they go to a Mexican restaurant and order guacamole, they’re increasing their brain power with great omegas in avocadoes,” says Zwawa, who carries around sugar-free, cocoa-covered almonds for easy snacking.
Refine Whole Grain Choices
Cut out refined carbs like white bread and other sugar-filled foods. Instead, add more fiber-rich foods like oatmeal and brown rice and bread. Whole grains help stabilize your blood glucose levels, which is the brain’s main source of energy. Too much sugar can make you crash fast and shut the brain down. Zwawa recommends a “super brain food” chicken quesadilla with whole grain tortilla, brown rice, mushrooms, onions and an avocado (or guacamole) dip. If cooking up chicken tenders, opt for whole grain breading. “As crazy as it sounds when broken down, chicken tenders are good for your brain,” he says. “It’s great for your brain, will save you money and time and make you look and feel better.”
Red and Dark Fruits Pack Brain Power
Polyphenolics, natural compounds found in fruits and berries, help clear out and recycle toxic proteins linked to age-related memory loss and other mental decline. Fruits with deep red (tart cherries, pomegranates), orange or blue color pack even more of the compound and can protect neurons in the brain from oxidative damage and improve prevent memory loss. Top Greek yogurt with some fresh blueberries, or add a thick slice of tomato to your salad or sandwich. Lycopene, the antioxidant found in tomatoes, may help protect against free radical damage to cells that may occur during the onset of dementia.
Free Brain Fuel
The entire body needs water to function, especially the brain. In fact, three-quarters of our brains are water, so when dehydrated, thought process, concentration and memory are depleted. “Water is a super food,” says Zwawa. “Water helps your brain, and it doesn’t cost a thing. We need water to help brain do what it needs to do.”
The ‘Other’ Meat
Cut down on your red meat intake and opt instead for more white ones like lean ground turkey, chicken or pork tenderloin. Leaner meats and poultry have fewer carbohydrates, but don’t let this always be the deciding factor with other foods. “First check the leanness and where it came from,” says Zwawa. “I shake my head when people say I’m going to have a no-carb diet. If you take that out of your diet, you’ll walk around like a zombie. The brain functions on carbohydrates and fat. Without carbs, your brain will start to rot and slowly kill itself.”
A Little Caffeine Goes a Long Way
Down your morning cup of Joe, but don’t go for a third or fourth cup. Like red wine, which has plenty of heart-enhancing properties in moderation, small amounts of caffeine are a great regulator of the blood circulation, including its flow to the brain. Small amounts of caffeine found in coffee, tea and dark chocolate can help keep things moving in the brain. “Caffeine is great for the brain,” says Zwawa. “So many studies show that caffeine in moderation is great for the brain. It wants it. It needs it. Just don’t get addicted to it.”
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