Sunflower seeds are far and away one of the best food sources of vitamin E, so if you like to snack on these tasty seeds, you're doing both your heart and your brain a favor. Vitamin E reduces the risk of plaque buildup on blood vessel walls, which cuts your chances of a heart attack or stroke and permits free blood flow to both your heart and brain. This snack is a tasty way to fire up brainpower, too.
Bonus points: Sunflower seeds are also a good source of magnesium, a mineral that regulates serotonin. In the brain, serotonin, which relays signals between nerve cells, plays a key role in regulating mood.
If your blood pressure and cholesterol are under control, it benefits your heart and your brain. A review in Medscape General Medicine concludes that diets that decrease the risk of heart disease also hold promise for reducing the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease. Here's where avocados come in. They're loaded with vitamins that help keep cholesterol in check, including vitamin E.
Bonus points: Avocados may help protect your lungs from damage caused by air pollution. Researchers in England found a link among blood levels of vitamin E, breathing difficulties and exposure to polluted air. Men and women exposed to higher levels of pollutants had lower levels of vitamin E in their blood.
Salad oils are rich in alpha tocopherols, a form of vitamin E that "can help prevent a dramatic loss of a critically important molecule in the brain," says nutritionist Maret Traber of Oregon State University in Corvallis. The brain can't manufacture this molecule — docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA — and depends on diet for its supply. Just as you can't build a house without the right construction materials, you can't maintain a healthy brain without adequate vitamin E, Traber emphasizes. Also try olive and canola oils, which have similar benefits.
Bonus points: These salad oils are high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, oleic acid may improve mood, decrease anger and increase energy.
Should you take vitamin E in a pill?
Research studies so far have not found that taking vitamin E supplements can prevent deteriorating memory or worsening thinking skills, notes nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who is also a member of the Global Council on Brain Health. "However, study after study has shown that diets rich in foods that contain vitamin E are associated with a lower risk of both Alzheimer's disease and a decline in thinking abilities among cognitively healthy individuals," she says. Compared with pills, foods contain thousands of micronutrients, many of which haven't yet been identified. That’s why popping a pill won't give you the same protection as a forkful of food. —Nissa Simon