28.08.2018 |

Episode #8 of the course How to improve your memory by David Urbansky


Today, we’ll discuss how to upgrade your “hardware” (i.e., your brain) to store your memories more effectively. In particular, we’ll look at how your dietary choices can positively impact your brain’s ability to memorize. Since there is so much unreliable information out there, I’ll only include foods and nutrients with benefits backed by scientific research. If you want to dig deeper, just follow the links to the studies.

Let’s start with omega-3 fatty acids. These have been shown to improve memory functions of the brain [1]. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, chia seeds, fish (e.g., salmon, sardines, and mackerel), shellfish, and walnuts. Tofu, spinach, beans, and brussels sprouts do not offer as much omega-3 (being lower in fat) but are still decent plant-based options.

How about salmon burgers with a spinach side salad?

Multiple studies have indicated that the B vitamins, especially vitamin B9 (also known as folate) [2] and vitamin B6 [3], have a positive impact on memory. Vitamin B9/folate occurs naturally in foods such as spinach, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, strawberries, orange juice, beans, and lentils. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is often added to breads, pasta, cereals, and other fortified foods [4, 5]. Vitamin B6 can be found in substantial concentrations in tuna, salmon, beef, chickpeas, potatoes, spinach, bell peppers, and bananas.

Green “memory power” smoothie, anyone?

Vitamin K has also been the subject of recent research [6, 7] and has been shown to improve episodic memory (the type of memory concerned with remembering events that occurred at a specific place and time, as you may recall). Vitamin K is found in leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and romaine lettuce. It is also found in herbs, such as parsley, basil, thyme, and sage, as well as in vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Smaller quantities of vitamin K are found in meat, fish, and eggs [8, 9].

One serving of this vitamin K-rich salad provides more than your daily requirement.

There is research to suggest that flavonoids have a significant impact on memory and cognition [10]. Flavonoids are plant chemicals that, along with carotenoids, are responsible for color in fruits and vegetables. Dietary sources of flavonoids include apples, citrus fruit, citrus fruit juices, tea, red wine, legumes [11], and berries, especially blueberries [12].

This citrusy chickpea dish should do the trick. Enjoy with a cold brewed green tea.

Other studies looked at foods rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and found positive effects on memory as well [13]. Coconut oil contains a high concentration of MCT, but you can also find MCTs in palm kernel oil and in full-fat dairy products, such as butter.

If you want to go all out and try everything, drink peppermint tea [14] and/or cherry juice [17], make your room smell like rosemary [16], eat some soy products [17], and snack on a handful of walnuts every day [18].

This episode contained a lot of information. Let’s take this opportunity to practice the techniques we have learned by memorizing the various nutrients that benefit memory: omega-3s, B vitamins, vitamin K, flavonoids, and medium-chain triglycerides. That’s only five items, easy peasy!

We can start by creating a five-stop journey through our fridge. The stops are 1) the fridge door, 2) the fridge handle, 3) the egg holder in the door, 4) one main shelf, and 5) the crisper drawer. Now use your own associations to attach each stop to a nutrient you want to memorize.

Here’s my journey for reference:

1. I visualize the Greek letter omega printed three times on the front of my fridge to represent omega-3s.

2. I see a bee (for B vitamins) sitting on the handle.

3. I open the fridge, and all the eggs are smiling and giving me a thumbs up to tell me that they are OK (for vitamin K).

4. On the main shelf of the fridge, I see iced tea in my favorite flavor (for flavonoids).

5. When I open the crisper drawer, I can see a little troglodyte waving with his club (troglodyte will trigger the complicated “triglycerides” for me).

There you go! Not only did you learn which foods are good for your memory, you also applied a memory technique to learn them. Double whammy!

While I focused on foods that exhibit a positive correlation with memory, these foods are also beneficial for other cognitive functions. The conclusion here is that you should eat healthy foods to get a healthy brain—pretty simple and easy to remember.

Tomorrow, we will look at lifestyle improvements that are beneficial for a healthy mind and memory.


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Recommended book

Power Foods for the Brain: An Effective Three-Step Plan to Protect Your Mind and Strengthen Your Memory by Neal D Barnard



[1] Reductions of acetylcholine release and nerve growth factor expression are correlated with memory impairment induced by interleukin‐1β administrations: effects of omega‐3 fatty acid EPA treatment

[2] Further evidence on the effects of vitamin B12 and folate levels on episodic memory functioning: a population-based study of healthy very old adults

[3] Vitamin B-6 supplementation in elderly men: effects on mood, memory, performance, and mental effort

[4] Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Folate

[5] All about Vitamin B

[6] Vitamin K status and cognitive function in healthy older adults

[7] Increased dietary vitamin K intake is associated with less severe subjective memory complaint among older adults

[8] Vitamin K facts

[9] All about Vitamin K

[10] The impact of fruit flavonoids on memory and cognition

[11] Flavonoids Sources

[12] Anthocyanins in aged blueberry-fed rats are found centrally and may enhance memory

[13] Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults

[14] Acute consumption of Peppermint and Chamomile teas produce contrasting effects on cognition and mood in healthy young adults

[15] Consumption of anthocyanin-rich cherry juice for 12 weeks improves memory and cognition in older adults with mild-to-moderate dementia

[16] Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults

[17] Eating soya improves human memory

[18] A cross sectional study of the association between walnut consumption and cognitive function among adult US populations represented in NHANES


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