Fish may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of brain food, but it’s not the only ingredient that can help keep your mind in shape. Some berries may also help improve cognitive function, according to a new study presented last weekend at the American Society for Nutrition’s Scientific Sessions & Annual Meeting in Boston.

Researchers from the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and the University of Maryland at Baltimore County fed rats a strawberry- and blueberry-based diet for two months, exposed them to radiation (which made the rats age very quickly and show signs of cognitive decline), and then looked at the neurochemical changes that occurred in their brains post-exposure.

What they found: Eating the berries seemed to help to prevent cognitive decline, says researcher Shibu Poulose, PhD, a molecular biologist at the USDA – Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Researchers think it may be because the fruits promote autophagy, a mechanism that allows your body to recycle the damaging protein that accumulates in your brain as you get older, making you susceptible to diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. After the rats ate the berries, researchers also saw a significant reduction in two genetic markers that have been shown to lead to brain diseases later on in life, he says.

One thing to remember: When it comes to brain health, prevention is a much better strategy than trying to reverse damage after it’s occurred, says Poulose. “If you eat healthy, it will protect you from all these brain diseases down the line.”

These berry-filled recipes are a great place to start:

Blueberry-Mango Mahi Mahi

Florida Chicken

Maria’s Rhubarb Strawberries

 

Fulfilling Salad

 

Tabbouleh with Fruit

 

Berry Special Chicken Salad

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