Foods To Boost Brain Power (cont.)

Moderator: How about bad fats? Can they affect the brain?

Magee: In terms of bad fats, in general we want to keep trans fats as low as possible and keep saturated fats less than 10% of calories. There are some recent studies that suggest that a lower-fat diet that's also higher in antioxidants may equal lower Alzheimer's risk (more to come on that in future studies). 

Moderator: What are antioxidants, exactly? I hear about them all the time; it's become quite a catchword, but how do they work?

Magee: We obviously need oxygen, but sometimes it can create aging in the body by oxidizing your cells. Free radicals, for example, can be created when components in your body mix with oxygen. So antioxidants in the body give themselves up, basically, to mix with oxygen so that other cells aren't, and are therefore saved. Bottom line, antioxidants decrease aging at a cellular level in our bodies.


"We're finding that vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals work together synergistically in our bodies."

Eating ample antioxidant-rich foods should slow down the rate of aging. Certain vitamins have antioxidant properties, as well as certain minerals and certain phytochemicals, or plant chemicals. The two antioxidants that have been linked to better memory and reasoning are vitamin C and beta-carotene. 

For example, a large study in Switzerland discovered that people in their 60s who had the highest blood levels of vitamin C and beta-carotene scored higher on memory tests than those with low levels. And in almost all cases they got the vitamin C and beta-carotene from food, not supplements.

Moderator: So if getting these from food is so important, please share your favorite sources with us!

Magee: Look to yellow, orange, and dark green veggies for beta-carotene, and dark-green vegetables and citrus fruits for vitamin C. Here's a top 20 list for each.

Beta-carotene top 20: 


  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet potato
  • Butternut squash
  • Mango
  • Spinach
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kale
  • Greens (beet, collard, and mustard)
  • Swiss chard
  • Red peppers
  • Apricots
  • Broccoli
  • Prunes
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Romaine and loose-leaf lettuce
  • Tomato juice and tomato sauce

Vitamin C top 20:

  • Fresh orange and grapefruit juice
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Red peppers
  • Cantaloupe
  • Tomato vegetable or tomato juice
  • Broccoli
  • Mango
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Grapefruit
  • Pea pods
  • Green pepper
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Red cabbage
  • Greens
  • Butternut squash
  • Grapes
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomato juice and tomato sauce
  • Potatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • Green soybeans
  • Berries (raspberries and blackberries)

Moderator: What about blueberries? I've heard they are the ultimate antioxidant.

Magee: And they are. They are just on these lists because they're not in the top 20 for vitamin C and beta-carotene, but they have a lot of other things going for them. Researchers found that people eating blueberries regularly for four weeks showed improvements in a number of aging indicators, including decision speed, aches and pains, and energy level. Another study found that people who ate a cup of blueberries a day, which I could personally do, appeared to be protected from age-related mental decline. 

One brand-new study found that supplementing rats' diets with extracts from blueberries, cranberries, and black currants and boysenberries improved some aspects of learning and memory, and the blueberry and cranberry diets also improved motor performance in rats. 

It's being suggested that blueberries may influence the way brain cells communicate. Most likely it's a phytochemical in blueberries. In fact, phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which are in blueberries, cranberries, and boysenberries, is what some experts think is the component that is helping brains from aging. This particular phytochemical is what may possibly help the brain make new neurons, which is huge when you're aging.

The neat thing about this is through the year we can eat blueberries, cranberries, and boysenberries, because you can often get them frozen. Adding them to cereal, yogurt, and smoothies are easy ways to work these berries in.

Moderator: Does the freezing affect the nutrition content?

Magee: No. In fact, oftentimes it has more nutrition because they're freezing at peak harvest, so they're more likely to be at a peak nutritionally, and the freezing actually freezes the aging of the fruit. It stops it from exposure to the environment, which would break down nutrients over time.

Member question: You mentioned getting vitamin C from foods earlier. What do you think about supplements to help with memory, alertness, and general mental 'sharpness?' Are vitamin companies making a mint off of us for nothing, or does popping a morning supplement really help us think better?

Magee: I don't think the morning supplement is necessarily going to help you that same day, but we do want to correct vitamin deficiencies. You want to make sure, for example, you're getting enough folic acid and B12. These are two brain-worthy vitamins. There is the possibility that too low levels of folic acid might promote neurodegeneration, the breaking down of neurons in the nervous system. We can increase our folic acid in our systems by eating foods and taking a supplement, a multivitamin that contains folic acid.

The most important thing to do is get these important vitamins and phytochemicals from the foods we eat, because more and more we're finding that vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals work together synergistically in our bodies. When we get them from food we get all the components in a particular food that may work together. We're not getting that in a multivitamin or supplements, necessarily, but I consider taking a complete multivitamin with minerals an insurance policy.