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11 Foods That Boost Your Brain and Memory

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By Kerri-Ann Jennings

Your brain is kind of a big deal.


As the control center of your body, it's in charge of keeping your heart beating and lungs breathing and allowing you move, feel and think.

That's why it's a good idea to keep your brain in peak working condition.

The foods you eat play a role in keeping your brain healthy and can improve specific mental tasks, such as memory and concentration.

This article lists 11 foods that boost your brain.

1. Fatty Fish

When people talk about brain foods, fatty fish is often at the top of the list.

This type of fish includes salmon, trout and sardines, which are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids (1).

About 60 percent of your brain is made of fat, and half of that fat is the omega-3 kind (2).

Your brain uses omega-3s to build brain and nerve cells, and these fats are essential for learning and memory (2, 3).

Omega 3-s also have a couple additional benefits for your brain.

For one thing, they may slow age-related mental decline and help ward off Alzheimer's disease (4, 5, 6, 7).

On the flip side, not getting enough omega-3s is linked to learning impairments, as well as depression (3, 8).

In general, eating fish seems to have positive health benefits.

One study found that people who ate baked or broiled fish regularly had more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter contains most of the nerve cells that control decision making, memory and emotion (9).

Overall, fatty fish is an excellent choice for brain health.

Summary: Fatty fish is a rich source of omega-3s, a major building block of the brain. Omega-3s play a role in sharpening memory and improving mood, as well as protecting your brain against decline.

2. Coffee

If coffee is the highlight of your morning, you'll be glad to hear that it's good for you.

Two main components in coffee—caffeine and antioxidants—help your brain.

The caffeine in coffee has a number of positive effects on the brain, including (9):

• Increases alertness: Caffeine keeps your brain alert by blocking adenosine, a chemical messenger that makes you sleepy (10, 11, 12).

• Improves mood: Caffeine may also boost some of your "feel-good" neurotransmitters, such as serotonin (13).

• Sharpens concentration: One study found that when participants drank one large coffee in the morning or smaller amounts throughout the day, they were more effective at tasks that required concentration (14).

Drinking coffee over the long term is also linked to a reduced risk of neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's (9).

This could at least be partly due to coffee's high concentration of antioxidants (15).

Summary: Coffee can help boost alertness and mood. It may also offer some protection against Alzheimer's, thanks to its caffeine and antioxidants.

3. Blueberries

Blueberries provide numerous health benefits, including some that are specifically for your brain.

Blueberries and other deeply colored berries deliver anthocyanins, a type of plant compound with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (16).

Both inflammation and free radicals, which are destroyed by antioxidants, contribute to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases (16).

Some of the antioxidants in blueberries have been found to accumulate in the brain and help improve communication between brain cells (16, 17).

Animal studies have shown that blueberries help improve memory and may even delay short-term memory loss (18, 19, 20).

Try sprinkling them on your breakfast cereal or adding them to a smoothie.

Summary: Blueberries are packed with antioxidants that may delay brain aging and improve memory.

4. Turmeric

Turmeric has generated a lot of buzz recently.

This deep-yellow spice is a key ingredient in curry powder and has a number of benefits for the brain.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning it can directly enter the brain and benefit the cells there (21).

It's a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that has been linked to the following brain benefits:

• May benefit memory: Curcumin may help improve memory in people with Alzheimer's. It may also help clear the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of this disease (21, 22).

• Eases depression: It boosts serotonin and dopamine, which both improve mood. One study found curcumin improved depression symptoms just as much as an antidepressant over six weeks (23, 24).

• Helps new brain cells grow: Curcumin boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a type of growth hormone that helps brain cells grow. It may help delay age-related mental decline, but more research is needed (25).

To reap the benefits of curcumin, try cooking with curry powder, adding turmeric to potato dishes to turn them golden or making turmeric tea.

Summary: Turmeric and its active compound curcumin have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, which help the brain. In research, it has reduced symptoms of depression and Alzheimer's disease.

5. Broccoli

Broccoli is packed with powerful plant compounds, including antioxidants (26).

It's also very high in vitamin K, delivering more than 100 percent of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) in a 1-cup (91-gram) serving (27).

This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for forming sphingolipids, a type of fat that's densely packed into brain cells (28).

A few studies in older adults have linked a higher vitamin K intake to better memory (29, 30).

Beyond vitamin K, broccoli contains a number of compounds that give it anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which may help protect the brain against damage (31).

Summary: Broccoli contains a number of compounds that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, including vitamin K.

6. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds contain powerful antioxidants that protect the body and brain from free radical damage (31).

They're also an excellent source of magnesium, iron, zinc and copper (32).

Each of these nutrients is important for brain health:

• Zinc: This element is crucial for nerve signaling. Zinc deficiency has been linked to many neurological conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, depression and Parkinson's disease (33, 34, 35).

• Magnesium: Magnesium is essential for learning and memory. Low magnesium levels are linked to many neurological diseases, including migraines, depression and epilepsy (36, 37).

• Copper: Your brain uses copper to help control nerve signals. And when copper levels are out of whack, there's a higher risk of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's (38, 39).

• Iron: Iron deficiency is often characterized by brain fog and impaired brain function (40).

The research focuses mostly on these micronutrients, rather than pumpkin seeds themselves. However, since pumpkin seeds are high in these micronutrients, you can likely reap their benefits by adding pumpkin seeds to your diet.

Summary: Pumpkin seeds are rich in many micronutrients that are important for brain function, including copper, iron, magnesium and zinc.

7. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are packed with a few brain-boosting compounds, including flavonoids, caffeine and antioxidants.

Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant plant compound.

The flavonoids in chocolate gather in the areas of the brain that deal with learning and memory. Researchers say these compounds may enhance memory and also help slow down age-related mental decline (41, 42, 43, 44).

In fact, a number of studies back this up (45, 46, 47).

In one study including more than 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 (45).

Chocolate is also a legitimate mood booster, according to research.

One study found that participants who ate chocolate experienced increased positive feelings, compared to participants who ate crackers (48).

However, it's still not clear whether that's because of compounds in the chocolate, or simply because the yummy flavor makes people happy (48).

Summary: The flavonoids in chocolate may help protect the brain. Studies have suggested that eating chocolate could boost both memory and mood.

8. Nuts

Research has shown that eating nuts can improve markers of heart health, and having a healthy heart is linked to having a healthy brain (49, 50).

A 2014 review showed that nuts can improve cognition and even help prevent neurodegenerative diseases (51).

Also, another large study found that women who ate nuts regularly over the course of several years had a sharper memory, compared to those who didn't eat nuts (49).

Several nutrients in nuts, such as healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamin E, may explain their brain-health benefits (52, 53).

Vitamin E shields cell membranes from free radical damage, helping slow mental decline (54, 55, 56).

While all nuts are good for your brain, walnuts may have an extra edge, since they also deliver omega-3 fatty acids (57).

Summary: Nuts contain a host of brain-boosting nutrients, including vitamin E, healthy fats and plant compounds.

9. Oranges

You can get all the vitamin C you need in a day by eating one medium orange (58).

Doing so is important for brain health, since vitamin C is a key factor in preventing mental decline (59).

Eating sufficient amounts of vitamin C-rich foods can protect against age-related mental decline and Alzheimer's disease, according to a 2014 review article (60).

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight off the free radicals that can damage brain cells. Plus, vitamin C supports brain health as you age (61).

You can also get excellent amounts of vitamin C from bell peppers, guava, kiwi, tomatoes and strawberries (62).

Summary: Oranges and other foods that are high in vitamin C can help defend your brain against damage from free radicals.

10. Eggs

Eggs are a good source of several nutrients tied to brain health, including vitamins B6 and B12, folate and choline (63).

Choline is an important micronutrient that your body uses to create acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and memory (64, 65).

Two studies found that higher intakes of choline were linked to better memory and mental function (66, 67).

Nevertheless, many people don't get enough choline in their diet.

Eating eggs is an easy way to get choline, given that egg yolks are among the most concentrated sources of this nutrient.

Adequate intake of choline is 425 mg per day for most women and 550 mg per day for men, with just a single egg yolk containing 112 mg (64).

Furthermore, the B vitamins have several roles in brain health.

To start, they may help slow the progression of mental decline in the elderly (68).

Also, being deficient in two types of B vitamins—folate and B12—has been linked to depression (69).

Folate deficiency is common in elderly people with dementia, and studies show that folic acid supplements can help minimize age-related mental decline (70, 71).

B12 is also involved in synthesizing brain chemicals and regulating sugar levels in the brain (69).

It's worth noting that there's very little direct research on the link between eating eggs and brain health. However, there is research to support the brain-boosting benefits of the nutrients found in eggs.

Summary: Eggs are a rich source of several B vitamins and choline, which are important for proper brain functioning and development, as well as regulating mood.

11. Green Tea

As is the case with coffee, the caffeine in green tea boosts brain function.

In fact, it has been found to improve alertness, performance, memory and focus (72).

But green tea also has other components that make it a brain-healthy beverage.

One of them is L-theanine, an amino acid that can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps reduce anxiety and makes you feel more relaxed (73, 74, 75).

L-theanine also increases the frequency of alpha waves in the brain, which helps you relax without making you feel tired (76).

One review found that the L-theanine in green tea can help you relax by counteracting the stimulating effects of caffeine (72).

It's also rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that may protect the brain from mental decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's (77, 78).

Plus, green tea has been found to improve memory (79).

Summary: Green tea is an excellent beverage to support your brain. Its caffeine content boosts alertness, while its antioxidants protect the brain and L-theanine helps you relax.

The Bottom Line

Many foods can help keep your brain healthy.

Some foods, such as the fruits and vegetables in this list, as well as tea and coffee, have antioxidants that help protect your brain from damage.

Others, such as nuts and eggs, contain nutrients that support memory and brain development.

You can help support your brain health and boost your alertness, memory and mood by strategically including these foods in your diet.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about donations to the Amazon Fund. LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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