The more you eat a diet based on whole, healthy foods, the more your brainpower will soar, even to the point of staving off age-related cognitive decline and other brain disorders
Anchovies, sardines, mackerel, herring and wild-caught Alaskan salmon are examples of healthy fish rich in omega-3 fats that offer neuroprotective benefits
Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens contain brain-protective nutrients such as folate, vitamins E and K, lutein and beta-carotene
Pastured organic eggs, particularly the yolks, are a good source of choline, which is needed for your body to make the brain chemical acetylcholine that is involved in storing memories
By Dr. Mercola
Your brain is like a sponge, soaking up not only the information around you on a daily basis but also the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals in the food you eat. The more you eat a diet based on whole, healthy foods, the more your brainpower will soar, even to the point of staving off age-related cognitive decline and other brain disorders. While eating real foods is key, there are some superstars that stand above the rest.
By planning your meals to include the brain-boosting foods that follow, you’ll be providing the fuel your brain needs to not only stay healthy in the future but also function optimally today, bringing with it increased productivity, focus and a creative edge.
Six Top Brain-Boosting Foods to Include in Your Diet
Small cold-water fish that are rich in animal-based omega-3 fats but have a low risk of contamination are among your best choices for healthy fish. This includes anchovies, sardines, mackerel, herring and wild-caught Alaskan salmon. The omega-3 they contain is vital to your brain, helping to fight inflammation and offer numerous protections to your brain cells.
For instance, a study in the journal Neurology found “older women with the highest levels of omega-3 fats … had better preservation of their brain as they aged than those with the lowest levels, which might mean they would maintain better brain function for an extra year or two.”1 In separate research, when boys were given an omega-3 supplement, there were significant increases in the activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex part of the brain.2
This is an area of your brain associated with working memory. They also noticed changes in other parts of the brain, including the occipital cortex (the visual processing center) and the cerebellar cortex (which plays a role in motor control). In addition, older adults with memory complaints who consumed the omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alone or in combination with another omega-3 fat eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), had improved memory.3
Consuming healthy fish once a week or more is even linked to a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with rarely or never consuming it.4 If you don’t like fish, you can alsoget animal-based omega-3 fats in therapeutic doses by taking a supplement like krill oil. But if you’re looking for a dietarysource, the healthy fish named above are among the best sources.
Cruciferous Veggies and Leafy Greens
Eating just one serving of green leafy vegetables a day may help to slow cognitive decline associated with aging, helping you to be 11 years younger, cognitively speaking, than your non-leafy green-eating peers.5 They’re a rich source of brain-protective nutrients like folate, vitamins E and K, lutein and beta-carotene.6
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, are equally impressive, in part because they’re good sources of choline, a B vitamin known for its role in brain development.
Choline intake during pregnancy “super-charged” the brain activity of animals in utero, indicating that it may boost cognitive function, improve learning and memory and even diminish age-related memory decline and the brain’s vulnerability to toxins during childhood, as well as confer protection later in life.7 Pastured organic eggs and grass fed meat are other good food sources of choline.
Broccoli offers additional benefits as well, including the anti-inflammatory flavonoid kaempferol and three glucosinolate phytonutrients that work together to support your body’s detoxification processes.8 In another study, women who ate the most cruciferous vegetables or leafy greens had slower cognitive decline than those eating the least, to the point that their brain function equaled that of someone one to two years younger.9
Pastured, organic eggs, particularly the yolks, provide valuable vitamins (A, D, E and K), omega-3 fats and antioxidants. They’re also one of the best sources of choline available. Choline helps keep your cell membranes functioning properly, plays a role in nerve communications and reduces chronic inflammation. Choline is also needed for your body to make the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is involved in storing memories.
In pregnant women, choline plays an equally, if not more, important role, helping to prevent certain birth defects, such as spina bifida, and playing a role in brain development. In addition, people with higher choline intakes were shown to have better cognitive performance, doing better on tests of verbal and visual memory, than those with low intake.10
According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, only 8 percent of U.S. adults are getting enough choline (including only 8.5 percent of pregnant women).11
Among egg consumers, however, more than 57 percent met the adequate intake (AI) levels for choline, compared to just 2.4 percent of people who consumed no eggs. In fact, the researchers concluded that it’s “extremely difficult” to get enough choline unless you eat eggs or take a dietary supplement.
Some of the symptoms associated with low choline levels include memory problems and persistent brain fog. Your body can only synthesize small amounts of this nutrient, so you need to get it from your diet regularly. One egg yolk contains nearly 215 mg of choline.
Increased coffee (and tea) consumption was linked to a lower risk of glioma brain tumor, such that people in the top category of coffee consumption were 91 percent less likely to have glioma compared with those in the bottom category.12
It may help your brain function as well, with research showing that drinking one to two cups of coffee daily may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, cognitive decline and cognitive impairment compared to drinking less than one cup.13
Drinking coffee may even enhance long-term memory consolidation14 and, if you drink the caffeinated variety, improve attention and alertness while decreasing your risk of depression.15 Caffeine can be a double-edged sword, with excess consumption causing adverse effects, and everyone’s tolerance to caffeine is unique.
However, most people naturally adjust their coffee consumption to avoid the jittery feeling that comes from too much caffeine. Ideally, coffee should be organic and shade-grown; drink it black or with added coconut oil or medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil.
Wine (One Glass)
Limited wine intake—one glass a day or no more than seven drinks a week—has been found to protective against dementia in later life.16 Part of the benefit likely comes from the catechin epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), found in red wine and tea, which has been found to stop beta-amyloid proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease from killing brain cells.17
Resveratrol is another compound in red wine linked to brain benefits, including protecting the neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) between neurons.18 Resveratrol may also help to restore the blood-brain barrier in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, which could help keep out unwanted immune molecules that can worsen brain inflammation and kill neurons.19
Even Champagne contains beneficial compounds, including relatively high amounts of phenolic acids, that appear to have a neuroprotective effect against oxidative neuronal injury.20 It’s important to note that only a small amount of alcohol may be beneficial, and excess amounts are toxic to your brain.
Blueberries are rich in phytochemicals linked to improvements in learning, thinking and memory, along with reductions in neurodegenerative oxidative stress. They’re also relatively low in fructose compared to other fruits, making them one of the healthier fruits available. Wild blueberries, which have high anthocyanin and antioxidant content, are known to guard against Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
Wild blueberries have even been shown to reduce some of the effects of a poor diet (such as high blood pressure systemic inflammation). In an animal study, wild blueberries reduced the proinflammatory effects of a poor diet as well as prevented high blood pressure, which would be beneficial for your brain health.21
Further, women who consumed at least a half-cup of blueberries a week for 15 years had slower cognitive decline than women who did not, with researchers noting, “berry intake appears to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.”22
The Beach Is Good for Your Brain Health Too
It’s not only what you eat that matters to your brain — your environment matters, too. Interestingly, one of the most restorative environments for your brain, according to research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, is the beach.23 The best atmosphere for psychological restoration when visiting the beach or, as the study called them, “coastal parks,” is a combination of mild temperatures and low tides. There are a number of factors that make the beach an ideal locale for your brain, including:
•Sun exposure: This is important for optimizing vitamin D, as low vitamin D levels are linked to a risk of cognitive decline in the elderly.24 Beyond this, sunlight affects your mood and mental health through a number of mechanisms, including affecting your vitamin D, serotonin, endorphins, nitric oxide levels and mitochondrial energy.
•Walking barefoot on the sand: When you put your bare feet on the ground, a process known as earthing or grounding, you absorb large amounts of negative electrons through the soles of your feet. These free electrons act as antioxidants in your body and help to reduce chronic inflammation, the root of many chronic diseases.
Further, grounding thins your blood, making it less viscous, and your zeta potential quickly rises, which means your red blood cells have more charge on their surface, forcing them apart from each other. This action causes your blood to thin and flow easier. If your zeta potential is high, which grounding can facilitate, you not only decrease your heart disease risk, but also your risk of multi-infarct dementias, where you start losing brain tissue due to microclotting in your brain.
•Swimming in the ocean: Ocean water is a unique source of important minerals like magnesium, potassium and iodine,25whereas swimming provides physical activity. Physical exercise, in turn, decreases risk of age-related brain shrinkage, and increases cognitive abilities by promoting neurogenesis — your brain’s ability to adapt and grow new brain cells.
Did Your Brain Stop Making New Cells When You Were a Teen?
It’s believed that the adult brain’s hippocampus continues to generate new neurons into adulthood in response to things like exercise, dietary compounds and mental stimulation. However, a new study suggests progenitor cells, or stem cells, as well as young neurons, which are important for forming new connections, are absent past the age of 13 years.26 Further, such cells rapidly declined much earlier than this, decreasing by 22 weeks in utero and further lessening in number by age 1.
The study was conducted on tissue samples, which are often poor quality and could have affected the outcome of the study. However, René Hen, a professor in Columbia University’s departments of psychiatry, neuroscience and pharmacology at the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, told CNN the study is “provocative” because “it claims that in the average human brain there are very few neurons left — in other words, it’s probably not functional …
It is important because there are few studies that have documented how many of these young neurons are present in the hippocampus in humans.”27 It remains to be seen whether the study will be further confirmed, but it’s also interesting to note that no one knows how many young neurons are necessary for function; it could be that a very small number could have “quite potent effects,” according to Hen.
In addition, it has previously been shown that certain lifestyle strategies can promote neurogenesis and regrowth of brain cells, including the following. All of these strategies target a specific gene pathway called BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which promotes brain cell growth and connectivity as demonstrated on MRI scans.
Exercise. Physical activity produces biochemical changes that strengthen and renew not only your body but also your brain — particularly areas associated with memory and learning.
Reducing net carbohydrate consumption, including sugars and grains.
Increasing healthy fat consumption. Beneficial health-promoting fats that your body — and your brain in particular — needs for optimal function include clarified butter called ghee, organic grass fed raw butter, olives, organic virgin olive oil and coconut oil, nuts like pecans and macadamia, free-range eggs, wild Alaskan salmon and avocado, for example.
Increasing your omega-3 fat intake and reducing consumption of damaged omega-6 fats (think processed vegetable oils) in order to balance your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Krill oil works well for this because (like wild Alaskan salmon) it also contains astaxanthin, which appears to be particularly beneficial for brain health.
Growing broccoli in your garden is a pleasingly rewarding process. Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) is a versatile vegetable. It is also a surprisingly nutritious vegetable full of minerals and vitamins such as folic acid, potassium, Vitamin A iron and fiber.
Broccoli is a cool season, sun loving plant. It is usually grown in the spring or fall. The plant belongs to the brassica or Cruciferae family. Broccoli is a close relative of collards, brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage and cauliflower.
Adaptable and resilient this vegetable doesn’t require lots of space to thrive. It is also one of the easiest vegetables to cultivate. This is your complete guide to growing broccoli.
What is the Difference Between Broccoli and Calabrese?
Many gardeners and casual observers confuse, or struggle to tell the difference between, broccoli and calabrese. While they may look similar, the two plants have different growing requirements. Calabrese is a fast growing crop that is harvested in the same year that it is sown. Broccoli is overwintered and harvested the following year.
Growing broccoli requires cool temperatures. Warm weather can stunt the growth habit of the plant. The plants thrive in temperatures between 65 and 70 ℉. You will need to plan your crops around the high, summer temperatures.
In cool areas you can begin growing broccoli in early spring or mid summer. Growers in warmer areas should plant quick growing varieties in late summer. This allows your crop to avoid the highest temperatures of summer.
Recommended varieties include:
Bordeaux F1 is a reliable late year variety. It produces purple spears from early summer until late fall and requires no cold period to begin producing the spears.
Claret F1 is a popular purple hybrid. It is known for its thick spears which emerge from April onwards. This is a vigorous cultivar that does well in poor soils.
Nine Star Perennial is a reliable cultivar which produces small pale stems every spring for up to 3 years. A vigorous variety, it does best with a little space.
Green Goliath is a popular heat tolerant cultivar. It is grown for its large heads and side shoots.
Green Magic is another heat tolerant variety. A reliable plant it’s stalk also freeze well.
Green Duke is heat tolerant and reliable, a popular choice amongst gardeners in the South or warmer climates.
Flash is another heat resistant, quick growing variety. Once the head is cut the plant produces scores of side shoots.
A wide variety of plants are available
The range of varieties on offer means that you will be able to find at least one type that is suitable for your climate.
Broccoli can be started either from seed or purchased as young plants. Seeds are easy to start and cheaper than plants. Growing from seed also allows you access to a wider range of plants.
Growing from Seed
Seeds store for up to four years so don’t feel you need to use the entire packet in the first year. How many seeds you sow depends on how much broccoli you require, and how many people you are feeding. Smaller families will find two or three plants more than enough.
In cool areas, sow the seeds from April to June. Planting in this timeframe allows you to harvest crops from February or March until early May. In warmer areas sow quick growing seed varieties either late in the summer or in early fall.
Seeds germinate in temperatures as low as 40 ℉. However, the warmer the soil the quicker germination occurs.
If you are sowing in the spring, sow seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last predicted frost date. Sow outdoors 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost, as soon as the soil can be worked.
In the fall, sow seeds 85 to 100 days before the first predicted frost. At this point the soil and temperature is warm enough to encourage germination but not too warm that it stunts growth.
Sow the seeds in trays filled with fresh potting soil. You can also sow directly into position in a bed. To do this dig over and weed the soil well before sowing. Your chosen site should be full sun, ideally 6 to 8 hours a day.
Planting in darker positions may cause plants to under-develop or become leggy. A sheltered site is preferred, this helps the plants to survive cold winters.
Plant in moist, well draining, fertile soil. Work in compost or a light layer of manure in early spring to enrich the soil.
Before planting, use a soil test kit to measure the pH level of your soil. It should be between 6 and 7. Growing broccoli is best done in a slightly acidic soil. If your soil is too alkaline, there are a number of easy ways to amend it.
Sow the seeds about half an inch deep. Aim to space them about 12 inches apart. Some varieties may require more space, check the seed packet before sowing. Don’t worry if you struggle to space the seeds out far enough. They can be thinned out later, following germination.
Place a net over the seeds or a floating crop cover. This protects the seeds and young plants from pigeons or other birds. The ChangSheng Plant Cover not only protects seedlings from birds, it also prevents smaller pests such as caterpillars from accessing your crops.
Remember to harden off seedlings before transplanting.
Seeds started indoors can be transplanted when they are 4 to 6 weeks old or when 4 to 5 leaves have developed. Plant slightly deeper, about an inch, than their tray depth.
Space the plants 12 to 20 inches apart. Rows should be spaced 3 ft apart. Planting too closely together can cause main head yields to be smaller, however more secondary heads will develop.
Planting in Containers
You can also try growing broccoli in a pot. One plant comfortably fits in an 8 inch pot. An 18 inch pot can hold 3 to 4 plants. Plant as you would in the ground. Planting in self watering pots helps to keep plants hydrated in a low maintenance garden.
Fill the pot with fresh, well draining potting soil. Plant each plant slightly deeper than in its previous position.
After planting, firm the soil down and water.
Growing broccoli in pots
An uncomplicated plant, you can also grow broccoli in pots.
Caring for Growing Plants
Thin the plants out when they reach 2 to 3 inches in height.
Keeping the beds weed free is important. There are a number of useful weeding tools that can help you achieve this. However, growing broccoli has shallow roots. Disturbing the roots can impair growth. Instead, try mulching around the plants. This also helps to keep the soil cool and encourages the plants to continue growing during warm periods.
When to Water
Aim to keep the soil evenly moist. Water regularly, especially during drought, or warm periods. In general you may need to apply one to one and a half inches of water a week.
Try to keep the plant, in particular the head, as dry as possible when watering. Damp heads can easily rot. Watering with a watering can, instead of a hose, can make this easier.
Once the heads have formed reduce watering.
You will need to water broccoli growing in pots more often than plants in the ground. You can also move the pots to shadier positions on hot days. This helps the soil to conserve moisture and also keeps these heat sensitive plants cool.
Water your growing broccoli regularly
Watering cans allow you to keep as much of the plant as possible dry while still soaking the soil. You can also dilute water soluble or liquid fertilizers into a watering can.
Fertilizing your Plants
Apply a low nitrogen fertilizer three weeks after transplanting. If you have started the seeds in beds, fertilize three weeks after thinning out.
Add bone meal if the lower leaves, followed by the top leaves, yellow.
A nitrogen rich liquid fertilizer can be applied in the spring to encourage better heads to form. Liquid fertilizers are easily incorporated into a watering routine.
Earth the soil around the stems of the plant to prevent wind from knocking or rocking the growing stakes. Mound the soil about 4 inches high. In windier positions you may need to stake the growing plants. Royal Imports Wood Plant Stakes provide a sturdy, natural way to support growing plants.
Growing broccoli alongside fragrant herbs also has benefits. Dill, oregano, chamomile, mint, rosemary, thyme and culinary sage are all great choices.
Like many crops, broccoli emits allelochemicals. These can adversely affect plants growing closeby. Choose your companions carefully. Avoid planting near pole beans, tomatoes, beans, mustards and strawberries.
Common Pests, Problems and How to Solve Them
Broccoli suffers from many of the same problems as other brassica plants.
Clubroot is a particular problem. Clubroot causes roots to become gnarled and misshapen. Lift the plants as quickly as possible and destroy them. Don’t place diseased plants or infected soil on the compost heap.
Prompt action prevents the disease from spreading to other plants. Raise the pH level of the soil to over 7.2 to get rid of the fungus. You may also need to sterilize the soil.
Crop rotation keeps plants healthy
Plants growing on even the smallest allotments can benefit from a simple crop rotation system.
The yellowing of foliage at the bottom of the plant, slowly rising up the stem, is a sign of a nitrogen deficiency. This can be cured by amending the soil with a nitrogen heavy, low phosphorus fertilizer. Blood meal can also be used, and offers a quicker solution.
Regularly check plants for signs of infestation such as aphids. These can be removed by an application of homemade insecticidal soap.
Cabbage loopers, creating small holes on the foliage, can be picked off the plant. A floating row cover prevents most caterpillars. Cabbage Worms can also be picked from the plant.
Whiteflies, white rust and cabbage root maggots can also affect crops.
Adopting even a simple form of crop rotation can help to alleviate or prevent most issues.
How to Harvest Crops
Broccoli is best harvested in the morning. Harvest stalks when the buds on the head are firm and tightly packed together.
Harvest when the heads are compact
Harvest plants when the buds are still firm and tightly packed together.
Harvest immediately if you notice petals yellowing. As soon as the petals begin to yellow the quality of the plants will decline quickly.
When harvesting try to make an angled cut. This helps water to slide away from the stalk. Water pooling on flat surfaces can cause the stalk to rot. This ruins any secondary heads that may form.
Once the main head has been harvested, allow the plants to remain in place. Continue to water and fertilize the plants. Many varieties form secondary, smaller heads.
Secondary stalks can continue to emerge for many weeks after the main harvest, especially in cooler climates. These can be harvested and used just like the main stalks.
Freshly harvested stalks often taste better than stored stalks. Steaming the stalks also helps to retain flavor and texture as opposed to boiling. Freshly harvested broccoli can be stored for 5 days in a refrigerator. Wash thoroughly before storing.
If you need to store the stalks for longer, blanch and freeze them. Stalks treated in this way can be stored for up to a year.
Growing broccoli is easy and rewarding
Surprisingly easy to grow, these plants are packed full of nutrients.
Growing broccoli is one of the easiest vegetables you can introduce to your garden. With regular water and a little nutrition the plants will thrive, producing a reliably stream of nutritious and great tasting stalks. Despite being a cool weather crop, even gardeners in warmer climates can enjoy some success by growing quick growing varieties. Reliable and resilient and packed full of nutrients, why not start your growing broccoli journey today?