Keeping the mind and body healthy is of utmost importance as you, your parents and your grandparents get older. A decline in memory or brain function can be more devastating than physical aging, and the key is prevention. The good news is that the latest research shows specific foods help to keep the mind sharp when eaten as part of an overall healthy diet.
Where’s the Evidence?
Following a healthy diet is important for many reasons – from boosting the immune system to maintaining a healthy weight to preventing disease. According to a 2009 Alzheimer’s Association report, although genetics and family history are the primary risk factors for the development of the disease, emerging science shows that certain foods can keep brain function as healthy as possible. A 2009 study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” found that participants who were physically active and consumed a Mediterranean diet – low in saturated fat and full of whole grains, olive oil, fish and fruits and vegetables – had a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who did not exercise or follow the diet. This type of diet benefits the whole body, as these foods are naturally low in cholesterol and sodium. In fact, keeping blood pressure in check through a low-sodium diet also boosts brain health. A study of nearly 20,000 people published in “Neurology” in 2009 found that memory problems increased as diastolic blood pressure increased.
Feed Your Brain with Healthy Fat
Fish is a brain-food superstar, with its healthy dose of DHA omega-3 fats. A 2003 study in the “Archives of Neurology” found that individuals who consumed fish once a week had a 60 percent lower chance of developing Alzheimer’s. DHA is found in the nerve endings of the brain, but cannot be synthesized by the body. Food sources are ideal, including oily fish like salmon and seaweed. Aim to include two 4-ounce servings per week of cooked fish. Pregnant women, women who might become pregnant and children should always choose fish low in contaminants and mercury. Avoid predator fish like shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel. The same study also found that consumption of plant-based sources of omega-3 fats, including ground flaxseeds and walnuts, is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Both can be incorporated into baked goods or sprinkled into cold cereal or oatmeal.
Berries, Juice and Spices
Collaborative research reported in “The Journal of Nutrition” in 2009 found the antioxidants in blueberries and Concord grape juice play a role in everything from boosting memory to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects — a big plus for the mind and body. Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, stands out as a star, too. According to a report published by the Institute of Medicine, this spice – widely used in Indian cuisine — has been credited with that country’s significantly lower rates of cognitive decline compared with the United States. Enhance the flavor of your dishes with curry, which contains turmeric, when you can.
Incorporating healthy eating habits into an active lifestyle has a blanket effect of preventive benefits. In a joint initiative in 2004, the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association collaborated to promote a healthy diet, full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in saturated fat as part of a healthy lifestyle to prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease. As it turns out, the same tips that will help support your heart health and prevent cancer and diabetes will also keep your brain in tip-top shape.