You may have read or heard recent news or media attention related to dietary food components and their influence on brain cognition. Unfortunately, scientists have not found any cure-all or definitive dietary prevention for decline in brain cognition, including diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are, however, some healthful dietary practices that can promote optimal brain health.
The following guidelines will help you nourish your mind and body.
1. Always Eat with Your Heart in Mind
The Mediterranean diet has taken the spotlight when it comes to healthy eating. Following a Mediterranean diet eating pattern has been linked to a wealth of health benefits. Recent studies found that a Mediterranean diet enhanced with either extra virgin olive oil or nuts also appears to improve cognition.
Current scientific evidence indicates that greater adherence to the Mediterranean-style dietary pattern can aid in slowing down cognition decline with age. Even more, the Mediterranean diet offers a balanced eating pattern that promotes eating lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and minimally processed foods, which has been proven to decrease inflammation—one of the culprits to declining cognition.
Reap the many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet by following these suggestions:
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day—shoot for 5 servings each day
- Use olive oil as your main fat source for cooking and baking
- Keep away from red and processed meats and include fish, poultry, beans and nuts in your diet as the main protein source
- Use low fat dairy products sparingly
- Stay away from processed foods/snacks—try yogurt and fruit for a sweet and savory snack
- If you like to drink alcohol, have one glass of red wine
2. Amp Up the Good Fats
Some studies have implied that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can provide protection against cognitive decline. Although more research is needed in this area to determine the scope of protection, omega-3 fatty acids have many proven nutritional benefits and should be included in a well-balanced, healthy diet.
Many studies have shown the protective role of omega-3 fatty acids in mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and the risk and progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. Get your dose by including more foods that are rich in omega-3’s:
- Grass-fed beef
- Fortified eggs & milk
- Albacore tuna
- Rainbow trout
3. Eat the Rainbow
We all know eating fruits and vegetables is important for our health. However, did you know plant-based foods are made of phytochemicals (chemical compounds) that can actually ward off chronic disease and damage to your body’s cells?
Phytochemicals have a range of health-promoting properties including antioxidant activity (to fight off free radicals from destruction), anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects, among much more. In fact, a high-flavanol diet was found to enhance a region in the hippocampus whose function declines with human aging.
Another study found that a carotenoid-rich (the precursor to vitamin A) dietary pattern was found to be associated with a higher composite cognitive score. Currently, researchers are still looking into the exact mechanisms of how these phytochemicals provide such benefits.
Tip: Aim to eat a different colored fruit and vegetable at each meal. The rainbow has no limits when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
4. Choose Food First
Studies looking at the effects of supplements on brain health for micronutrients such as vitamin B12, folate, EPA and DHA, vitamin D and antioxidants have shown mixed results. It is currently safest to consume these micronutrients through food for optimal benefit. Adequate dietary intake of these micronutrients may provide protection against disease. Be sure to include a variety of the nutrient-rich foods below:
- Vitamin B12: animal products, preferably lean meats and low fat dairy products
- Folate: legumes, nuts, and dark green vegetables
- Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA): fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and albacore tuna
- Vitamin D: fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel and fortified milk products
- Antioxidants: fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
In summary, scientists are still researching the link between dietary food components and brain cognition. However, eating a well balanced diet comprised of a variety of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and lean protein can provide you with the nutrients you need to nourish your body and mind.
Strive to eat real, whole foods and set your healthiest foundation!