Diet and Nutrition Q&A by Betty Kovacs

Are there any foods I can eat to improve my memory? Is there really "food for thought"?

Answer:

This is a really interesting question that a lot of researchers have given thought to. In fact, there is a considerable amount of data to support some relationships between our diet and memory. While the majority of the research is usually based around Alzheimer's, nutritional deficiencies, and age-related memory loss there is some evidence to show that there are foods that a healthy adult can consume to improve their memory.

Before looking at the data, there are two limitations to keep in mind. The first is that a lot of the studies were performed on animals, so it is hard to say if the information will translate to humans. The second is that it is difficult to accurately test "improvements" in memory. With that in mind, take a look at what these studies have found and see if you can find something that you can try:

  • The benefits of bulking up on high fiber foods may be something to think about. Several studies suggest that the intake of carbohydrates from food sources that are high in fiber and low in sugar or refined flour may be favorable for some parameters of cognitive performance. The reason that this may work is because the high-fiber foods stay in your system longer and do not give the quick rise in blood sugar that you would get from foods made from refined flour or sugar.


  • The most important meal of the day may be so because it can improve your memory. According to studies, having a breakfast with a high-protein food (eggs, meat, dairy, beans) and a high-fiber starch (whole wheat bread or high fiber cereal) can improve memory and enhance attention. One study showed that those who consumed breakfast cereal had a more positive mood at the start of the test sessions, performed better on a spatial memory task, and felt calmer at the end of the test session than those in the "no breakfast" condition. Another study showed that the choline found in eggs may be beneficial in the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Low levels of acetylcholine are associated with Alzheimer's disease, so increasing your dietary intake may slow age-related memory loss.


  • You may want to rethink if you are eating enough fruits and vegetables. In a study involving about 70 beagles, older dogs fed a diet rich in antioxidants over several years were able to perform tasks—and learn new tricks—far better than fellow canines fed a normal diet. The research is still being conducted to confirm if this will hold true in humans, but there is no reason to wait. You can go to http://www.mypyramid.gov/ for some guidelines on how much fruits and veggies you need to eat.


  • If you're fishing for ways to improve your memory, how about eating foods high in the essential omega-3 fats? While numerous health benefits for omega-3 fats have been found, studies are currently under way to test the possibility that this fat could prevent memory loss and dementia. The best sources: fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna; flaxseed, canola, and soybean oils; and flaxseed and walnuts.


  • If we are what we eat, then wouldn't we be what we drink as well? Our bodies are 60% water, and our brain is about 75% water, so it's obvious that water can impact our health. While there is no research to show that drinking water improves our memory, it has been shown that even a small amount of dehydration leads to confusion and problems with memory. In other words, don't wait to drink.

All of this research supports what the dietary guidelines say: Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, high in fiber, low in refined flour and sugar, and add omega-3 fats in place of saturated and trans fat. Now that's food for thought.

Thank you for your question.


Last Editorial Review: 3/19/2007