You probably know that the foods you eat can have an impact on your brain over time. In fact, some foods can actually impair your memory and increase your risk of neurodegenerative disorders, while others can help stave off cognitive decline.
Now, a new study finds that eating cranberries could help keep you sharp as you age.
In the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, researchers examined a group of 60 adults ages 50-80 for a period of 12 weeks, supplementing some of their diets with freeze-dried cranberry powder. Based on cognitive assessments before and after those 12 weeks, those who had been given the powder had better episodic memory and neural functioning.
Study author Dr. David Vauzour, senior research fellow in Molecular Nutrition at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, tells Eat This, Not That! that, while the results of this study are promising, it is unclear whether the fruit can help protect from serious neurological conditions.
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“The findings of this study are very encouraging, especially considering that a relatively short 12-week cranberry intervention was able to produce significant improvements in memory and neural function,” Vazour says. “However, whether these effects are observed in people with mild cognitive decline or neurodegenerative disorders is still to be investigated.”
Additionally, while cranberries can be beneficial for your mind, the best change you can make to keep you sharp, as far as your food choices are concerned, is to take a look at your diet overall.
“It is safe to recommend including a couple of servings of fruit per day in your diet, especially berries, as a way to prevent cognitive changes associated with aging,” Dr. Paul Goodman, board-certified physician, and chief medical officer of Fresh N Lean, explains. “The real winners in this space, however, have been studies examining the effect of complete dietary changes on brain health and dementia.”
He recommends the MIND diet, which combines elements of the Mediterranean diet with those of the hypertension-fighting DASH diet.
Of course, it may be unrealistic to imagine you’ll completely overhaul your diet all at once. Julie Andrews, MS, RDN, CD, FAND, owner of The Healthy Epicurean, recommends taking it one step at a time.
“Focus on making one or two small changes in your diet to incorporate more of these brain-friendly foods,” she says. “You could swap out a serving of salty snacks for a handful of berries and nuts once a week, plus add a few cups of spinach to your next batch of soup.”
She adds that, once you’ve got that down, you can swap out processed bread for whole-grain bread and add fatty fish to your diet one meal a week.
For more on eating your way to a healthier mind, check out these 10 Best Foods to Boost Brainpower.
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men’s Health, and Reductress. Read more