Seniors: How to incorporate brain-healthy foods into your diet

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Avocados and salmon are excellent – and brain-healthy – additions to your diet (File photo)
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By Katie Hilburn

Extensive studies have suggested that certain foods can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia and increase overall health and wellness. It’s easy to incorporate a brain-healthy diet into your life. Keep these recommendations close by to help you stay on track.

Katie Hilburn (Courtesy photo)

A recent study has shown that the MIND diet (an acronym for Mediterranean Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), a diet heavy in berries, leafy greens and seafood, appears to have a positive impact on cognitive ability. The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

A study conducted by researchers from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found that participants that strictly adhered to the MIND diet were 52 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the study’s findings are not able to show the exact correlation as to why a healthy diet has such a huge positive impact on cognitive ability, it is still a great start toward better understanding the connection between our diet, health and steps we can take now to prevent the onset of dementia.

The building blocks of a brain-healthy diet:

Avocados

Avocados, one of the fattiest plant-based foods in existence, are loaded with monounsaturated fat, which triggers healthy blood flow. They lead to reduced inflammation and their high amounts of potassium, which surpass the
amount in bananas, are responsible for lowering blood pressure.

Blueberries

Researchers have found that blueberries help reduce oxidative stress on the brain and may reduce age-related effects like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Diets rich in blueberries significantly improved learning capacity and motor skills.

Broccoli

Broccoli is rich in Vitamin K, which enhances cognitive function, including
thinking, reasoning, imagining and learning words.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are rich in vitamin E, which are linked to less cognitive decline and aging. Healthy nuts include walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds and flax seed. Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, which is known to enhance memory and thinking skills.

Oily Fish

Eating wild salmon and other oily fish high in omega-3s has been associated with less brain shrinkage. Omega-3s, which are essential for brain function, cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through diet. High levels of essential fatty acids have been linked to lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and memory loss. Other fish that are an abundant source of omega-3s include trout, mackerel, herring and sardines. Vegetarians can obtain these benefits through seeds and nuts like flaxseeds, soybeans pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

Sage

Sage has long had a reputation for improving memory. Sage as an
essential oil can be used for soothing baths, massage oils or topically for clearer skin. The scent stimulates the limbic system, which is the brain’s center for memory and emotion. Fresh sage can also be added to your diet by sprinkling it on food for extra taste.

Tea

Freshly brewed tea has a modest amount of caffeine, which promotes
healthy blood flow, boosts brain power and enhances memory and focus. Keep in mind that powdered teas, or sweetened teas with added sugars and milk, reduce nutritional value, so stick to freshly brewed.

Tomatoes

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, known to protect
against cell damage that can occur in a brain affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s. Tomatoes are also rich in vitamin C and have nutrients that support cardiovascular health.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid are known to reduce risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. Studies show that a group of patients with mild cognitive impairment who had regular doses of B6, B12 and folic acid had significantly less brain shrinkage compared to a group given a placebo vitamin.

Whole Grains

Whole grains such as oatmeal, whole-grain breads and brown rice are a healthy supply of energy for the brain, which improves our ability to focus.
They also reduce the risk for heart disease and promote all-around cardiovascular health. Because whole grains are slowly and steadily released into the bloodstream, the brain is kept mentally alert throughout the day. For healthy brain activity, avoid red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and fried food.

Katie Hilburn is an administrator at Silverado Memory Care in Alexandria.

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