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Foods That Improve Memory and Concentration

Diet affects brain function. Find out how foods rich in choline, iodine, and vitamin B12 improve memory and concentration throughout life.

How choline builds and maintains the brain

Choline is part of every cell.

Choline is an essential nutrient. That means you need choline from food or supplements to meet your needs.

Studies show that choline is key to brain development during pregnancy and early life.

Choline is linked to a lower risk for neural tube defects. The neural tube develops into a baby’s brain, spine, and spinal cord.

Choline also plays a role in the development of the hippocampus, the brain’s “memory center.” As a result, choline may help preserve and improve memory.  The hippocampus is one of the only areas in the brain that produces cells into late adulthood.

Some studies show a link between better memory in people with higher choline intakes.  And, people with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of a compound that allows the brain to use choline.

How to include enough choline

More than 90% of U.S. adults don’t consume enough choline, including pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Here’s how much choline you need every day:

Adults, ages 19-50 (not pregnant):

Female: 425 milligrams; Males: 550 milligrams

Pregnant: 450 milligrams

Breastfeeding: 550 milligrams

Choline is found in a variety of foods. However, animal foods, such as eggs, meat, and seafood, have the most choline. For example, one large egg or 3/4 cup roasted soybeans supply about 30% of your daily choline intake.

You may not get enough choline if you limit or avoid animal foods. As a result, you may need a choline supplement.

The amount of choline in foods can be found in the Nutrient Facts panel. The panel is on food and supplement labels. The Daily Value for choline is 550 milligrams.

Most multivitamins and prenatal pills do not contain much choline.  You may need an additional choline pill, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. However, limit choline intake to 3,500 milligrams daily.

 Coffee, walnuts, and berries for brain health

Iodine and brain health

The thyroid gland contains nearly all the iodine in the body. It stores iodine to make hormones for brain development and growth, and to produce energy.

How iodine builds and maintains the brain

During pregnancy, the body needs thyroid hormones to make myelin.  Myelin helps nerve and brains cells to communicate.

Iodine helps baby’s brain develop properly. Severe iodine deficiency in mom’s diet can lead to mental retardation and Attention Deficit Disorder.

How to include enough iodine in your diet

Iodine needs increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, women in their childbearing years may not get enough iodine.

The Nutrient Facts panel doesn’t list iodine, and that makes it hard to know how much iodine is in packaged foods.

Here’s how much iodine you need every day:

Adults, ages 19-50 (not pregnant):

Males and females: 150 micrograms/day

Pregnancy: 220 micrograms

Breastfeeding: 290 micrograms

All salt is not created equal

People who avoid iodized table salt, seafood, and dairy may be at risk for an iodine deficiency.

Dairy milk has iodine. However, many people avoid dairy foods. As a result, they may be missing out on iodine.

Seafood and sea vegetables supply iodine. Experts suggest eating at least eight ounces of seafood weekly. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat eight to 12 ounces of seafood weekly.

Salt with added iodine, called iodized salt, is a reliable iodine source. However, the same isn’t true of salty packaged foods.

Most of our salt intake comes from processed foods, but food companies almost always use plain salt.

Experts suggests pregnant and breastfeeding women take 150 micrograms of potassium iodine as a supplement daily. That advice also applies to women who may become pregnant. 

The body absorbs potassium iodide well. Taking more iodine is not better for you.

How vitamin B12 helps the brain

During pregnancy, the brain needs vitamin B12 for proper development and growth.  The brain also needs vitamin B12 throughout life. 

Vitamin B12 is part of the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells. The myelin sheath allows cells to “talk” with each other.

Vitamin B12 helps produce neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells communicate.

Foods with vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products, including seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. It is not present naturally in plant foods. However, fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and other grains and nutritional yeast, have vitamin B12.

It’s possible to be low in vitamin B12 if you avoid animal products. You can get enough vitamin B12 with fortified foods and dietary supplements.

Exclusively breastfed infants of women who eat no animal products may develop vitamin B12 deficiency within months of birth. Untreated vitamin B12 deficiency can result in severe nerve damage.

How much vitamin B12 you need

Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common than you think.

Up to 15% of the general population doesn’t get enough vitamin B12. Poor memory, confusion, depression, and dementia are symptoms of too little vitamin B12 in the diet.

You need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily after age 14.

During pregnancy, the daily suggested intake is 2.6 micrograms, and it’s 2.8 micrograms daily during breastfeeding.

Why you may need more vitamin B12

People with celiac disease and Crohn’s disease and those who have had weight loss surgery may absorb less vitamin B12.

Common medications affect how your body processes vitamin B12, too.

Ask you doctor about the medication you take. You may need extra vitamin B12.

Age also affects vitamin B12. The body absorbs less natural vitamin B12 after age 50. As a result, experts say people over age 50 should get most of their vitamin B12 in the synthetic form.

Synthetic vitamin B12 is added to foods such as breakfast cereal and other grains and dietary supplements. Added vitamin B12 does not require stomach acid for digestion. As a result, the body can use it easily.

In conclusion: How to have a better brain

Eating right helps the body and brain develop properly and supports it throughout life. Include foods rich in choline, iodine, and vitamin B12 in a balanced diet. If you don’t, consider taking a daily multivitamin and a choline supplement to meet your needs.

Tuna Burgers With Smashed Avocado and Tomato

We make tuna burgers with smashed avocado and tomato often at our house.  I love the recipe so much that I included it in my book, Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy. 

Canned tuna helps you include seafood at least twice a week

Experts suggest that adults eat at least two fish meals weekly, and that pregnant and breastfeeding women consume two to three meals a week. However, you don’t need to be pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive to enjoy the benefits of these burgers!

My burgers are made with canned tuna, an inexpensive, convenient source of several nutrients, including protein, iodine, and omega-3 fats necessary for an adult’s heart health, and for a baby’s brain development and vision.

Tuna Burgers With Smashed Avocado and Tomato are ready in less than 30 minutes!

Tuna Burgers With Smashed Avocado and Tomato

Makes 4 servings.

4  5-1/2 ounce cans or pouches of tuna, drained

1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or red onion

2 teaspoons dried dill

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 pitted avocado, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

2 small tomatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

4 2-ounce whole-grain sandwich buns or whole-wheat English muffins

Place the tuna in a medium mixing bowl and break it up into small pieces with a fork.  Add the bread crumbs, eggs, shallots, and dill, and combine well.  Form the mixture into four burgers.

Use an empty tuna can to form the burgers so that they are uniform in size and fit on the buns or English muffins.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Cook burgers for about four minutes on each side.

The tuna burgers should be cooked until golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside.  

I usually make a double batch of this recipe and freeze some. They are easy reheat for a quick lunch or dinner.

Wrap cooked tuna burgers well and date the package. They will last for several months in the freezer. Reheat in the microwave and make the avocado/tomato topping just before serving.

In a small bowl, combine the avocado and tomato until just mixed, mashing lightly while stirring.  To serve, place burgers on sandwich buns and top with the avocado mixture. Enjoy with baby carrots for extra crunch and more vegetables.

Delicious and nutritious Tuna Burgers With Smashed Avocado and Tomato pack omega-3 fats, fiber, protein, and much more!

Per serving:
430 calories; 14 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat); 139 milligrams cholesterol; 810 milligrams sodium; 40 grams carbohydrate; 8 grams fiber; 39 grams protein

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