Eat your way to a more healthful brain

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We love our hearts. But what are our brains? Chopped liver?

Neal Barnard, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., said how we eat can improve not just the function of our tickers, but also the longevity of our noggins.

In his book, "Power Foods for the Brain" ($27), he outlines his nutrition plan to stave off Alzheimer's and dementia. Barnard recommends these smart choices. And, no, chopped liver wasn't one of them.

Walnuts: Vitamin E can be a brain booster, Barnard said, noting a Dutch study that showed that people with the most vitamin E in their diets cut their risk of Alzheimer's by 25 percent. The best sources are nuts and seeds. Barnard generally opts for walnuts, which he said he enjoys shaved over a salad. (That also helps him limit his intake, so he doesn't overdo it with calories.)

Blueberries: "None of these has any cholesterol," he said, waving at the produce display. And that's important for the brain because clogged arteries translate into reduced mental function. He said he's particularly fond of this antioxidant-rich fruit that's been shown in a small study to help people with memory problems.

Broccoli: Folate sounds like foliage, which is what it is, Barnard said. And in combination with vitamins B6 and B12 (which he recommends taking in supplements), it can eliminate homocysteine -- a destructive molecule that messes with the heart and brain.

Sweet potatoes: Wondering how to get B6? Throw some of this root veggie into your basket. (Bananas are another good source.) Barnard said they're a staple in the diet in Okinawa, a place where people have been found to have exceptional brain function in old age.

Wine: Too much vino can mess with memory. But a glass or two a night has been shown to cut Alzheimer's risk significantly. In theory, red wine is the better choice, Barnard said, because the resveratrol it contains might be good for your heart. But when it comes to the brain, a glass of any alcohol appears to offer similar protection.