By Marcia Conard
As we age, our bodies age right along with us and that includes our brains. Following a healthy dietary plan that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains will help in maintaining a healthier brain. Further, it is important to try to get protein from plant sources and fish and choose healthy fats, rather than saturated fats. There are many diets that include some of the healthiest foods to feed your brain like the MIND (Mediterranean – Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet. Whatever healthy regimen you decide to follow, these are some of the best foods to include in your daily/weekly eating habits for translating into better mental function.
- Green, leafy vegetables – ½ cup of cooked leafy greens, or a heaping cup of uncooked greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli contain brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. The benefits are less cognitive decline – the equivalent of 11 years less when at least six such servings are consumed per week.
- Berries – Flavonoids (pigments) that give berries their brilliant hues contain powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have found that women who consumed two or more servings of blueberries or strawberries per week, delayed memory decline by up to two-and-a-half years. Blueberries, in particular, are found to help protect the brain from oxidative stress which can reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. (Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage.)
- Fish – Eating seafood, primarily fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are likened to lowering blood levels of beta-amyloid, a protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. You would want to choose varieties of fish that contain low levels of mercury. Wild salmon, tuna, cod, canned light tuna, pollack, sardines, and herring would all be good choices. Try to have two to three servings per week. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flaxseeds, avocados, and walnuts. Additionally, extra virgin olive oil contains compounds that help clean up tiny tangles and plaques in the brain which slows disease progression.
- Nuts – Nuts as well as seeds are excellent sources of vitamin E and higher levels of vitamin E relates with lower levels of cognitive decline as you get older. An ounce a day can make all the difference. Good choices would be: walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseed, and unhydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini. It doesn’t matter if they are raw or roasted. If you are on a sodium restrictive diet, be sure to purchase unsalted nuts. Another important note is that walnuts are high in a type of omega-3 fatty acid which helps to lower blood pressure and protect arteries. Nuts are also linked to reduced inflammation, decreased insulin resistance and improved levels of fats in the blood all needed for good brain health.
- Tea and coffee – Freshly brewed tea and coffee contain caffeine which can enhance memory, focus, and mood. Additionally, tea contains a potent antioxidant which can stimulate healthy blood flow. Some research is pointing toward caffeine helping to solidify new memories.
It is important to recognize that eating foods that promote cardiovascular health means you are promoting good blood flow to the organ system and that includes the brain. Whole grains, including oatmeal, whole-grain breads, and brown rice will help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Wheat germ is not considered a whole grain, however, in addition to fiber, wheat germ has vitamin E and some omega-3’s and can be substituted into the diet to replace a serving of whole grain.
Something as simple as adding an herb or spice to your food can help prevent cognitive decline. An example would be cocoa. Cocoa beans are a good source of flavonoid antioxidants, which have heart benefits. The flavonoids can accumulate in the brain, especially in the areas of learning and memory, preventing damage and protecting brain health over the long term. Turmeric is a good spice to be used for reducing inflammation in the brain.
Let’s not forget the benefits of dark chocolate which contains powerful antioxidant properties as well as several natural stimulants like caffeine which will enhance focus and concentration, stimulate the production of endorphins, and improve mood. However, moderation is key! One-half ounce to one ounce a day provides all the benefits you need.
Research sources: WebMD, Harvard Medical School, AARP
Marcia Conard is a life-long resident of the Blue Water Area. Marcia has an Associate of Science Degree from St. Clair County Community College. Marcia was licensed by the Federal Government as a Customhouse Broker and worked in Management and as a Director for over 30 years in the Customs Brokerage business. Marcia has two grown sons also living and raising families in the Blue Water Area. Marcia joined the Grant Smith Health Insurance Agency as the operations manager in May 2017.
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