For many people, when the urge for something sweet comes along, chocolate is the go-to treat. In addition to being delicious, did you know that chocolate has many health benefits and consistently tops the lists of the best “brain foods”? Touted for improving memory, decision-making ability, mental response time and mood, brain foods can make a marked difference in maintaining a healthy brain. And while a balanced diet is essential to overall well-being, we think adding chocolate and other brain foods to your regular diet is a very good idea.
What Are Brain Foods?
The brain is not only the most complex organ in our bodies, it also uses a great deal of energy to stay healthy. In fact, the brain uses approximately 20 percent of the body’s calories to function so feeding the brain with nutrients that build and repair cells and reduce inflammation are essential to the health of the brain. There have been many studies that seek to find the best brain foods and the degree to which they benefit our bodies and, in turn, overall health. The Mediterranean Diet, which is filled with brain foods, remains a top suggestion for healthy eating and has been called the ‘world’s healthiest diet’. Eating a brain-boosting diet can offer with both long- and short-term benefits so it is never too late to start boosting the brain with food.
Top Brain Foods
While there are many opinions about what we should and should not consume… ‘no gluten!’, ‘eat whole grains!’, avoid dairy, etc. most health officials do believe in the power of some brain boosting foods. Consistently on the list of brain foods are:
- Fatty fishes – salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are loaded with omega-3s, which are known to aid thinking ability.
- Dark Chocolate – Full of a type of antioxidant called flavonoids, dark chocolate has been shown to encourage neuron and blood vessel growth and stimulate blood flow, leading to increased memory and learning abilities.
- Nuts, especially Walnuts – While many nuts benefit brain health, walnuts have an extra boost for brain power. An excellent source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), walnuts have been linked to improved cognitive performance in adults. In fact, in one study, adults eating higher amounts of walnuts had better cognitive test scores.
- Eggs – It is the choline in eggs that gives them the brain health benefits. Some Finnish researchers monitored the diets of about 2,500 men without dementia for about 22 years. Not only were regular egg eaters less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but eating eggs was also linked to a better performance on cognitive tests. And no worries about cholesterol, it is perfectly safe for most people to consume an egg a day.
- Green Tea – Another brain food that is rich in antioxidants is green tea. But did you know that green tea also offers EGCG? This powerful antioxidant that is also found in berries and apples has been shown to counteract some of the unhealthy aspects of the typical Western diet.
So, About That Chocolate…
A legit mood-booster, chocolate has several of the markers associated with the best brain foods. Flavonoids, caffeine and antioxidants are all present in dark chocolate. The plant-based flavonoids gather in areas of the brain that deal with learning and memory, leading researchers to believe that these compounds can slow age-related mental decline. In one study including over 900 people, those who ate chocolate more frequently performed better in a series of mental tasks, including some involving memory, than those who rarely ate it, while another study shows that chocolate eaters experienced more positive feelings than those who did not eat it. So next time you get a craving for a little something sweet, go ahead and reach for that dark chocolate and give your brain a boost!