How many passwords do you have? At last count, I had fifteen! My parents never had a single password to remember. They only had one telephone number and that phone was attached to the wall! They weren’t bombarded by commercials from several media. OK, so our world seems a bit more complicated but, our brains are essentially the same. They process information the same as they have for generations.
In aging adults, declining memory and mental function can be caused by the disease Alzheimer’s or it can be caused by clogged blood vessels that deprive the brain of nutrients and oxygen. In either case the end result is the same, senile dementia.
Can what I eat promote brain health? There is significant research supporting the role of B vitamins in cognitive health. There are eight B vitamins known as the B-complex and they appear to work collectively to improve brain function. B vitamins produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and regulate energy use in the brain. So it is plausible that adequate intake of foods like leafy vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, low-fat dairy foods, lean meats and fish, soy foods, chickpeas and fruits could improve brain function.
Several nutrients including vitamin D, folate, beta-carotene, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids are associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These nutrients are found in a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and legumes. Reduced consumption of sweets, high-fat dairy foods such as whole milk and ice cream, processed meats such as bacon, ham, wieners, sandwich meats and canned meats is recommended for reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A recent Spanish study found that adults who ate a diet supplemented with olive oil and nuts – both sources of mono-unsaturated fats – scored better on cognitive tests. Another study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience reports that those who follow a Mediterranean style of eating including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, red wine and fish is beneficial for brain health.
All of the factors that improve heart health also improve brain health. By keeping the blood vessels that supply blood and nutrients to the brain clear of cholesterol build up, we preserve brain health and reduce risk of dementia. This means limiting high fat meats and whole dairy foods, concentrated sweets, trans-fats and fried foods. Include fish twice a week, nuts on most days and yes, lots of vegetables and fruits. Is this beginning to sound redundant?
Lifestyle factors other than diet also contribute to better cognitive function in older adults. Maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure, regular physical activity and mental stimulation such as reading, playing games and social interaction are all associated with brain health.
So get the card table out. Break out the cards, dominoes or your favorite board game. Make a fruit and vegetable tray. Have some seasoned olive oil and whole grain pita chips handy. Some mixed nuts would be popular. Open a good red wine and you will be set for a fun evening with family or friends. Then… go mow the yard!
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with St. Luke’s Health. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service, The Polk Education Center and the City of Lufkin, Tim Scallon hosts the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations. The popular cooking show celebrates the joy of fresh food and healthy eating and can be seen on cable in 62 cities and online at http://www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org. On the website find healthy recipes, past cooking shows and sound nutrition information.