Written by Vincent Kovar
The art of memory, or Ars Memorativa in the Latin, has fascinated us since…well, I can’t quite remember. From the ancient Greeks to early Christian monks, scholars have employed a number of mental techniques in training their minds to keep track of the burgeoning field of human knowledge. Nowadays however, there seem to be so many more things to keep track of. Not only is the overall amount of human knowledge growing at an exponential rate but each of us is expected to memorize a dizzying array of minutiae. From what floor our dentist office is on, to an average of seven passwords and PIN numbers per person, we use our memories more than ever before. It should come as no surprise however, that those clever ancients were willing to put their memory where their mouth was.
Here is a fistful of five foods for the memory which are both respected by science and revered by the ancients.
One of the most famous memory-enhancing herbs is rosemary. The motto of the plant has long been “rosemary for remembrance” and now modern science knows why. Rosemary is rich in the anti-oxidant, carnosic acid which dilates the cerebral vascular tissues. Studies have shown that even the smell of rosemary can improve memory performance in office workers. Other herbs that may help memory include “the three Gs”: ginko, ginseng, and gotu kola. No one is sure how they work quite yet but we do know they stimulate the brain’s neurotransmitters.
Another food with a long pedigree and which seems to have many benefits on the brain is usually served as a beverage, tea. About 5000 years ago the inventor and Chinese emperor Shen Nung discovered that the combination of a certain wild leaf in hot water produced an invigorating beverage. He called it “cha” from the Chinese word meaning “to investigate” a word which we now know as chai or tea. Tea’s benefits may spring from its healthy combination of anti-oxidants and caffeine. According to a study by the University of Limburg in the Netherlands, “the most important consequence of [caffeine’s] adenosine antagonism … might lead to improvement of higher cognitive functions, particularly memory.” The antioxidants in tea are called polyphenols which have repeatedly been shown to improve cognitive function and memory. Tea also contains a calming amino acid called theanine which helps reduce “the jitters” and keeps the mind relaxed and focused. Perhaps the best news is that tea has up to 10X the polyphenols found in foods like fruits and vegetables.
Three: FRUITS & VEGETABLES
Let’s not knock our friends, fruits and vegetables, however. Man cannot live (or learn) on herbs and tea alone, we need food. The thing to remember about memory boosting foods is color. You want dark reds, blues and greens. Apples contain quercetin which protects against memory loss. Blueberries (and red beets) have another great anti-oxidant called anthocyanin which performs the same function. Red onions and grapes contain both. Combine red and blue and you get the purple of eggplant, a food rich in nasunin which protects the lipids in our brain tissue. Dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts and romaine lettuce are high in folic acid which several studies have show to prevent and even reverse memory loss.
Four: FISH & NUTS
Sushi, anyone? The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish (and nuts) are great for the brain. Sea swimmers like mackerel, herring, eel and tuna are also chock full of phosphatidylserine. You don’t have to remember these fancy chemical names, just remember that these oils contain nutrients that are not made in the body, so it’s important to eat plenty.
Honey is a delightful sweet that every culture in history has enjoyed. The sweet product made by bees from flower nectar has been used for thousands of years in food, medicine and even religion. Now, based on a study by the University of Waikato in New Zealand, honey might start being marketed as the next liquid gold for the brain. This research suggests that a diet sweetened with honey could both lower anxiety and improve memory. What an excellent excuse to not skip dessert.
It may not be entirely scientific to suggest, but a nice cup of tea and a slice of honey-soaked baklava (containing omega-3 rich nuts of course) might be the perfect pre-study snack after a healthy dinner.
Overall, it appears that a good memory might not just be the result of what you put in your eyes and ears but what you put in your mouth as well.
Vincent Kovar is a writer, instructor, editor, and entrepreneur based in Seattle, Washington. An Adjunct Faculty member at both Antioch University and the University of Phoenix, Vincent writes about online colleges for EarnMyDegree.com
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