There are some age-old remedies to improve our memory. Repetition is the mother of retention. So, don’t be embarrassed to use post-it notes on your refrigerator doors. As our brain has evolved as a pattern seeking device, associate recall is the best method to stay focused. Remembering important dates, events and names with some catchy phrase or image, works well most of the time. Scientists have known for some time that power nap is key to learning and memory. Yes, sleep plays an important role in organizing and laying down your memories.
And ofcourse, the diet. In today’s world, when most of us are on a special diet, our overwhelming concern is always our body. Whether it be including more vegetables to shrink the waistline or adding some almonds to make our skin glow! But in fact, we need to eat healthy for one of the most critical organs of our system, the brain. Fortunately, it can be kept running at its peak performance at any age.
To improve the cognitive ability, we need to make some smart changes to our daily eating regimen. During my time at the University of Madras (endemic species research), I had an opportunity to observe many dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. When they altered their diet a little with more brain boosting foods, they usually showed the signs of progress. They were able to recall their past far better than other patients. And, here is the list of most popular foods to keep our memory active and sharp as a lifestyle.
Most Popular Brain Boosting Foods
•Bacopa monnieri (brahmi) Ayurveda talks about a special class of medhya herbs—specifically useful to promote brain function. For hundreds of years, it has been used by herbalists in India to influence the activities of the central nervous system. This neuroprotective herb is highly recommended by Ayurvedic texts as a neural tonic.
•Centella asiatica (Indian pennywort, gotu kola in Hindi and vallarai in Tamil) is used as a leafy green in South Indian cuisine and it can act as an cerebral tonic. It contains natural chemicals known as triterpenoids; researchers have found that triterpenoids help to reduce anxiety and enhance mental function.
•Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng or ashwagandha) has been used as a medicinal herbs for many centuries in India. Ayurveda claims that aswagandha (berries and roots) improves memory and concentration.
•Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree or balkuwari) has been studied by doctors for several years. It is said to boost blood circulation in the brain, and therefore improve attention, focus, concentration, memory and overall health.
•Turmeric or its active ingredient curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substance. Research has confirmed that curcumin is responsible to decrease the plaque buildup that is thought to be precursor to Alzheimer’s and its anti-inflammatory effects has proved to prevent memory loss.
•Finger-millet (ragi) the complex carbohydrate are amongst the best type of brain foods. As their molecules are longer and it takes more time to break down, which enables a steady supply of energy to our brain, unlike sudden surge provided by refined carbohydrate foods.
•Indian Blueberries (jamun), have a lower glycemic index rate. Taking whole berries have a better advantage than in juice form. This fibrous fruit will cling for a longer period in the tract and all the natural vitamins will be assimilated thoroughly.
•Sesame Oil Seeds in our diet is very essential for neurotransmitters to deliver messages to other neurons more quickly and effectively. Ayurveda identifies two best oils in the Indian tradition, cold pressed sesame and coconut oil.
•Pumpkin Seeds. Just a handful of seeds a day is enough to meet our daily recommended amount of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills.
•Oregano (karpooravalli in Tamil) helps improve memory by defending the brain from inflammation, supplying oxygen, thus delaying the aging of the brain.
•Eggplant’s skin contains a nutrient called nasunin, it is high on the list of potent antioxidants. Biologically it functions by scavenging excess iron in the body and thereby preventing a free radical chain reaction that damages cells. Makes the brain sharp by enhancing communication between our brain cells and messenger molecules.
•Kidney Beans contains almost 19% of the recommended daily allowance for the B-vitamin thiamin, which is critical for cognitive function, needed to synthesize the nutrient choline. Kidney beans are rich in inositol, which improves symptoms of depression and mood disorders.
•Walnuts (akhrot) Studies have linked low consumption of omega-3s to depression and decreased cognitive function. So snacking on walnuts in between meals could be a good way boost your spirits as well as your IQ.
•Egg yolks are loaded with ‘choline,’ a B vitamin essential for the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which sends electrical impulses across synapses between nerve cells. These fat-like molecules in the brain are responsible for brain function and health.
•Milk. It is also important to calm down the brain…sometimes. Milk has an essential amino acid tryptophan which plays a key role in altering mood.
•Yogurt. Calcium rich yogurts have an essential amino acid tyrosine, which is responsible for producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenalin. It improves alertness and memory.
•Root vegetables. Tubers like sweet potatoes, carrots and beetroots are highly nourishing for the brain. They are rich in vitamin B6, carbohydrates and antioxidant nutrients (vitamin C and beta-carotene), which not only purify the blood, but also help increase brain power significantly.
Last but not least, use it or lose it is very true to brain function. No matter what the age is or the occupation; our brain needs to be constantly challenged to be at its peak in terms of performance. Doing logic puzzles, memorizing the poems, and learning a new skill will keep the brain busy. Even cooking a different recipe each day and taking a new route to your home, counts.
Malar Gandhi is a freelance scholar and writer, who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking.