Healthy eating lowers your risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease but can it lower the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease? According to the most current research, a brain-healthy diet is one that encourages good blood flow to the brain while reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Similar to the heart, the brain needs a diet low in trans and hydrogenated fats and cholesterol, and the right balance of nutrients, protein and glucose for healthy function. For overall brain health, a brain healthy diet combined with physical and mental activity and social interaction may be just what the doctor ordered.
Managing your body weight is essential to brain health, as studies show obese middle aged adults are twice as likely to develop dementia later in life. High cholesterol levels and a high intake of unhealthy fats is associated with a higher risk for Alzheimer’s, while healthy fats, as are found in olive oil, fish oil and seed oils, may help protect brain cells. Increased intake of certain foods that reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke appears to be beneficial for brain health as well. Although no one miracle food is going to instantly boost brain power, the regular addition of certain foods to your diet will help your body to function optimally both physically and mentally.
Foods that researchers believe will help to keep your brain, heart and whole body healthy:
Foods that are high in vitamin E – A potent antioxidant, vitamin E may help protect neurons. In Alzheimer’s disease, neurons in certain parts of the brain begin to die, leading to cognitive deterioration. Foods high in vitamin E include vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids – Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and tuna are rich in heart and brain healthy omega-3’s, including DHA. DHA appears to be very important for normal neuron function. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be instrumental in maintaining brain function from early development throughout life. Fatty acids support nerve cell synapses, an important component of neuron communication, which can have a positive effect on learning and memory.
Nuts – Nuts, such as almonds, pecans, and walnuts, contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that keep arteries clear and support the production of brain chemicals, such as serotonin, which boost mood. The omega-3 and omega-9 fats found in nuts are vital for brain health, as these fats can dramatically reduce the risk of neural degeneration.
Berries – Berries are packed with memory boosting nutrients. Berries contain flavonoids that are critical to brain health. Flavonoids help reduce inflammation at a cellular level. The beneficial anti-oxidative compounds, such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, may help prevent damage as they disarm potential cell-injuring free radicals. Quercetin increases mitochondrial activity, boosting overall energy levels. Proanthocyanins may enhance spatial memory performance. Strawberries, blueberries and acai berries are thought to help preserve the brain’s natural housekeeping mechanism, which helps to rid the brain of toxic proteins associated with memory loss.
Cherries – Inflammation is believed to play a large role in many chronic diseases including heart disease and dementia. Cherries are natural inflammation fighters and contain polyphenols that help to keep blood platelets from binding together, reducing the risks of heart attacks and stroke.
Cocoa – Chocolate is rich in flavonols that can improve blood vessel function, boost overall circulation, and heighten blood flow to the brain. Cocoa’s beneficial compounds may help reduce the formation of damaging clots, further reducing heart attack and stroke risk.
Eggs – Eggs contain choline, one of the most important nutrients for brain building. Especially important during fetal development and early childhood, choline helps in the formation of mental building blocks which help to keep memory intact as we age.
Turmeric – Turmeric contains curcumin which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Continuing studies show promise that curcumin may prove useful in reducing plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dark green leafy vegetables – Vegetables such as kale, collards, spinach and broccoli are good sources of vitamin E and folate. Folate is thought to assist in lowering blood levels of homocysteine. High homocysteine levels are believed to trigger the death of the brain’s nerve cells.
“There has been some very good research that diets high in healthy fats, low in saturated fat and trans fats, and rich in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and nuts are good for the brain and the heart,” says Maria C. Carrillo, PhD, Senior Director of Medical and Scientific Relations at the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association. Even though there is no insurance policy against cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, there is only an upside to increasing physical activity and consuming a heart and brain healthy diet.
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