Healthy Aging and Brain Food
It is well established that we all thrive on a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, one low in saturated fat and high in good quality protein. These same foods are important for good brain health, as is activity, both physical and mental, and good stress management. There are certain foods that play a more important role in the grand scheme of keeping our brains working well and helping to prevent dementia.
Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for brain function and a good source of these is fatty fish. The abundant Omega-3’s and healthy unsaturated fats in fish are linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid—the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Including fish in your diet at least twice per week is recommended and the low-mercury fish, such as salmon, canned light tuna, cod and pollack, are best, and sardines and herring are also beneficial.
Flaxseeds, avocados and walnuts are also sources of good fats. Nuts are an excellent source of protein and in one study, a higher consumption of walnuts was linked to improved cognitive test scores. Walnuts are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which helps lower blood pressure and protects arteries and is good for both the heart and the brain. Avocados contribute to better blood flow, benefiting the brain, and lowering blood pressure.
Berries contain flavonoids which give them their bright colors and, according to research, help improve memory. Studies have shown that diets rich in berries improved learning capacity and motor skills. In addition, they can delay memory decline. Berries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and reduce the effects of age-related conditions like dementia.
Research also shows that green leafy vegetables play a role in slowing cognitive decline. Finding ways to include kale, spinach, collards and broccoli in your diet will provide you with the benefits of brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Search in cookbooks and online for new and different recipes that appeal to you to make it easier to include more greens in your diet.
Higher levels of Vitamin E correspond with less cognitive decline as we age. Nuts and seeds are good sources of this important vitamin. Try adding an ounce a day of walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, or flax seed. Non-hydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini will work as well. If you are monitoring salt intake, select the unsalted varieties.
Whole grains contribute to cardiovascular health which is vital for a healthy brain. For those who are gluten-intolerant or choose to avoid breads, beans and un-ground whole grains like quinoa and barley are good choices. The brain requires a steady source of glucose to provide energy and whole grains and beans can provide this. Both are generally affordable and can be prepared in a variety of ways to please every palate.
Your cup of coffee or tea in the morning can do more than wake you up. In one study, participants who had consumed caffeine scored better on mental function. Caffeine has also shown to solidify new memories. As with many things, a cup or two of coffee or tea has been shown to be helpful, but excess consumption of caffeine is not recommended and can cause other health issues.
If most of the dietary items above are already a part of your daily routine, you can rest assured you are eating in a manner that enhances your brain function. If you recognize immediately that there is room for improvement in your diet, consider one area that appeals to you and make a plan to work new foods in that group into your current meal plan. Once that is part of your daily routine, you can move on to another area. We all want to age well and keeping our brains healthy and alert is one of the biggest priorities!