It’s the little things like forgetting someone’s name or needing to constantly write yourself reminder notes. For the time being most of us just chalk it up to getting older but those common lapses of memory we all tend to share could also signal a future cognitive decline. What most of us fear is dementia, a catch-all term for a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. We fear the cognitive decline could be a symptom of the worst of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease.
What we know is that aging is the strongest risk factor for the development and progression of cognitive decline and dementia along with family history. Growing older and having relatives who developed Alzheimer’s is out of our control but one area we can be in charge of is our food choices. What we also know is that there is a complex interaction between what we eat and how they can possibly reduce our risk of cognitive decline.
Our eating patterns protect our brain matter
Our eating pattern encompasses what foods we choose from day to day, how often we eat certain foods and in what quantities. Several studies have shown that adopting a dietary pattern mimicking a Mediterranean-style diet or a vegetarian diet is what appears to be the most brain-protecting eating pattern around.
The Mediterranean diet is a term used to describe the traditional eating habits of people living in Crete, South Italy and other Mediterranean countries. The dietary pattern includes nutrient-rich, plant-based foods like leafy green vegetables, berries and extra-virgin olive oil.
Healthy eating patterns such as the Mediterranean diet help promote better blood sugar which could help protect brain function as cognitive decline has been observed in older people who have impaired glucose tolerance. It is known that having insulin sensitivity and diabetes are risk factors for dementia. Any diet that is largely made up of sugar and refined grains have the risk of increasing cognitive decline.
There are certain foods promoting better cognitive functioning, less dementia and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Here is a list of certain foods that have been shown to be associated providing better brain health going into old age:
·Healthy fats – The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that healthy fats have a significant positive impact on keeping our brain healthy. One source of healthy fat is fatty fish. Eating one serving per week of fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, halibut, trout) is associated with a 7% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to not eating fish. The healthy polyunsaturated fat found in fish appears to be the main brain health enhancer.
·Tree nuts and peanuts – It used to be nuts and peanuts were shunned as being “too rich in fat.” Now we know so much more about the healthy type of fat they contain and they are no longer snubbed. Tree nuts and peanuts are rich sources of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which also appear to support brain health. We know walnuts are high in both a plant-form of omega-3 fat and polyphenols and consuming one ounce a day (about ¼ cup) of walnuts is good for spatial memory. A sub-study of the PREDIMED clinical trial found improvements in memory of older adults who were given about one ounce of mixed nuts daily to eat as part of a Mediterranean diet for 4 years compared to a normal diet.
·Berries for a healthy brain – The small but mighty berry is quite powerful in its approach to fighting cognitive decline. Research has shown that older adults given1 cup of blueberries (powdered) for 90 days improved at remembering what they had already said when compared to a placebo. They also showed improved accuracy when switching between tasks. It is not certain what gives berries their powers but the anthocyanins (colorful phytochemicals) in them have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help control oxidative damage and inflammation in the brain.
Blueberries are not the only berry to rely on for improving brain health. Eat a variety of berries along with other nutrient-dense foods as they all contain important compounds that work together on keeping a healthy brain.
Here is a list of other brain-foods that are particularly good at keeping our brain healthy and our thinking clear and sharp – try to include several of them in your daily diet:
·Concord grape juice