Eat smart and your body will pay you back handsomely with sharper memory and stronger muscles. Here, eight foods that science shows can keep your brain and body fit.
A handful a day can keep Alzheimer’s away. A study done on a large group of elderly people found that those who regularly consumed nuts were less likely to develop the disease compared to those who didn’t. The researchers say the beneficial healthy fats, vitamin E and folate are to thank and are found abundantly in walnuts and almonds.
Repairs muscle damage. Regular bouts of intense exercise, for all its glory, does produce some free radicals that can lead to soreness. Nuts are loaded with post-exercise defense nutrients such as vitamin E, magnesium, folate and fiber. Plus the bit of protein (four to six grams per one-ounce serving) strengthens immunity.
2. Lean beef
Helps you recall useful digits. Phone numbers, pin codes, gym lock combinations — if you forget them often, eat beef. Volunteers in an Australian study were better able to memorize long number sequences after two weeks of supplementing their diet with five grams of creatine monohydrate (equivalent to one pound of red meat). The researchers say that having higher creatine levels in the brain ups thinking capacity overall.
Builds muscle. Red meat is the best source of iron and zinc. You need iron for oxygenating your muscles and zinc for immune support to help you recover, repair and grow after exercise. For even more bang for your nutritional bite, buy grass-fed beef. Unlike regular beef, grass-fed has a significant source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has been shown to help reduce body fat by aiding your body to maintain insulin sensitivity.
3. Dark Chocolate
Fights fatigue. Chocolate lovers rejoice: Eating a bite-sized piece may boost alertness, according to research from the University of Nottingham. Flavonols found in cocoa are responsible for aiding mental acuity by boosting blood flow to certain areas of the brain for up to three hours, according to the study. However, the researchers note that this effect is most felt in a sleep-deprived state.
Wards off fat buildup. Rich in catechins, dark chocolate may aid weight loss since catechins can help to increase thermogenesis: the calories you burn digesting food. What’s more, the more bitter the chocolate is, the more fat-burning catechins they contain. Just don’t go cuckoo for cocoa: Stick to one ounce of 82 percent extra-dark chocolate a day.
Bolsters memory. Eating tuna (and other types of fatty fish) at least three times per week has been shown in a large-scale study to lower risk of age-related memory loss and strokes. Credit docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid that powers up brain cell membranes.
Revs metabolism. Having more omega-3 fats in your body makes your muscle cells more “fluid,” which allows for quicker delivery of nutrients in and out of the cells. Result: a faster metabolism to boost performance and fat loss.
Keep your mind nimble as you age. There’s no getting around it: Getting older makes your brain more vulnerable to oxidative stress. But studies show that anthocyanins from blueberries offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power that reduce the damaging effect of aging such as Alzheimer’s and other age-related diseases. Other components of blueberries have also been shown to improve memory, focus and concentration.
Nurse post-exercise damage. Because exercise increases your metabolism and causes you to breath in more oxygen, you naturally create more free radicals in your body. Fortunately, antioxidants in blueberries have been shown to help counterbalance some of that oxidative stress, so you have a lower chance of getting sore muscles.
A cup a day keeps your mood at bay. Beans, peas, legumes and especially lentils are the richest whole-food sources of folate, a B vitamin that strongly affects mood and cognitive function. Folate is necessary for building new brain cells, and falling short on folate could lead to an increased susceptibility to oxidative damage of brain cells. In fact, clinical studies have found that a folate deficiency has been observed in up to 38 percent of patients diagnosed with depression.
Build muscle, quell cravings. One cup of beans contains 16 grams of muscle-building lean protein and a good dose of magnesium, which aids nerve function. Plus all types of beans have about 16 grams of fiber, which fosters a feeling of fullness.
7. Whole grains
Boost happiness. Carbohydrates stimulate the release of serotonin, the famed hormone that makes you feel calm and even better able to tolerate pain. Whole unprocessed grains provide vitamin B-6, which helps serotonin work better. In fact, the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing reported that a lack of B-6 can cause nervousness, irritability and even depression.
Aid muscle repair and fat burning. Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat (soba) offer immune-enhancing zinc, and vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps ward off post-exercise oxidative stress. Whole grains have just the right amount of magnesium and manganese to help ensure that carbs are used immediately for energy instead of being stored as fat. A large body of evidence has shown that daily consumption of whole grains can help you control weight.
8. Leafy Greens
Improve memory. The antioxidant cocktail contained in leafy greens (vitamin C, beta- and alpha-carotene and vitamin K, has been shown to boost memory and the ability to learn new tasks from past examples (something called concept learning) in older people. So when you’re grey and still active, performing new training moves will be a cinch.
Fight inflammation. Studies have shown that active people who don’t eat many antioxidant-rich foods have higher levels of inflammatory markers than athletes who do eat plenty of fruits and green leafy vegetables.