Features

June 2015 Issue




5 Steps for Feeding Your Brain

Adopt these key, diet-based strategies to help keep your brain sharp.

 

The fountain of youth for your brain could very well be in your refrigerator. Mounting scientific evidence suggests that what you eat plays an important role in learning and memory as you age, as well as your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Take these five protective steps:

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1. Pack in phytonutrients. Whole, plant-based foods, such as citrus fruits, broccoli, and soybeans, are rich in phytonutrients called flavonoids, which are especially beneficial to brain health. Flavonoids help guard nerve cells against injury from environmental toxins and inflammation, plus promote memory and learning. Flavonoids also increase blood supply to the brain, which is important for optimal brain function and may help decrease dementia risk.

2. Choose unrefined carbs. The hippocampus of the brain, which is very important in learning and memory, is especially susceptible to disruption by dietary factors, including refined sugars, which promote oxidative stress. Pass up sugary, processed foods and refined bread products in favor of whole vegetables and fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Such unrefined carbohydrates also help keep blood sugar steady, which supports memory and attention.

3. Be savvy about fats. Seafood, such as salmon and tuna, supply the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, which provide building materials for the brain. The plant form of omega-3s, ALA, found in walnuts and flaxseed, also promotes brain health. On the other hand, high intakes of saturated fat (prevalent in animal foods) and trans fat (in some processed foods and fast foods) are linked with greater mental decline as we age, including poorer word recall.

4. Minimize AGEs. When sugars in foods combine with protein or fat during high-temperature cooking or food processing, as well as during lengthy aging (such as in aged cheese), advanced-glycation end-products (AGEs) form. AGEs can deposit in the brain and are linked with faster memory decline in older adults and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. To reduce intake of AGEs, cut back on fried, grilled, and roasted meats, as well as highly processed foods and high-fat, animal-based foods.

5. Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is linked with increased risk of declining brain function with age. According to a November 2014 review in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, obesity in mid-life increases

risk of dementia later in life. In turn, treating obesity has positive effects on attention, memory, and other mental skills. A key component of weight control is physical activity, which also supports good brain functioning.