Brain-Healthy Foods

May 12, 2015

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Ben Franklin might not have had Alzheimer’s in mind when he wrote those words, but they sure are relevant in the fight against this terrible disease. Because while a cure remains elusive, doctors are quite encouraging about meaningful preventative steps we can all take towards avoiding the risk of dementia’s onset – starting with the food we eat.

Researchers are identifying certain nutritional sources that may protect against plaque formation, inflammation, and other pre-dementia phenomena. A brain-healthy diet begins with plenty of omega-3 fats, lean proteins, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Here are the key facts you need to know to start on the road to prevention:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful nutrients essential to healthy brain function. DHA, the omega-3 found in fish oil, is thought to be a critical component in cellular transmission. Researchers at Tufts University recently found that people who ate fish 3 times a week could possibly cut their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 39%! Good sources of omega-3s include salmon, mackerel, sardines, and albacore tuna.
  • What’s good for your heart is good for your brain; doctors suggest following a heart-healthy diet full of whole grains, fish, nuts, olive oil and fresh produce – and throw in a glass of red wine once in a while. By definition, a heart-healthy diet also means avoiding full-fat dairy products, red meat, fried food, and processed/packaged foods.
  • A powerful antioxidant, Vitamin C is essential for vascular health; some research suggests it may also protect against the formation of dementia-related brain plaque. So load up on all citrus fruits, as well as broccoli, leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and cantaloupe.
  • Beans and green peas are excellent sources of B-complex vitamins, which are thought to protect against brain shrinkage, as well as maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Spikes in blood sugar cause brain inflammation, which some scientists believe is a risk factor for dementia.
  • Vitamin D deficiency is also being looked at as a possible precursor to developing dementia symptoms. Talk to your doctor about possibly adding a Vitamin D supplement to your daily routine, and shop for Vitamin D-fortified foods found in the cereals and dairy aisles.

Want to learn more? Dr. Cynthia Green, founder of the Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Memory Enhancement Program, has an excellent website devoted to brain health and the prevention of Alzheimer’s.