How to Eat Smart for Heart and Brain

June 13, 2019

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

For advice written thousands of years ago, Hippocrates’ words pose an uncanny connection to today’s heightened awareness around the therapeutic and preventive power of the foods we eat. When it comes to heart and brain health, doctors today see this role as connected and vital to both organs’ proper function. “What’s good for the heart is good for the head” is a saying we hear a lot; perhaps you do too.

Age-old targets like saturated fat and cholesterol are a perfect example of why healthy heart and brain diets are considered interchangeable. Traditionally thought of as threatening circulation and heart function, these damaging elements are targeted for their impact on the brain as well – both for their possible role in the plaque formation associated with Alzheimer’s, and their negative impact on robust blood flow to the brain so critical to cognitive performance and memory retention. So which foods promote healthy blood flow? Doctors suggest you begin with what’s known as the Mediterranean Diet – rich in unsaturated fats, leafy green veggies, and Omega-3 fatty acids – and add in lean proteins and Vitamin C.

Here are some basic elements to focus on:

  • Unsaturated Fats: Think nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Also known as the “good fats”, unsaturated fats promote healthy blood flow and blood vessels throughout the body. Great sources include nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts; avocados; olives; flax seed, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds; and whole grain foods like brown rice.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful nutrients that can lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease your risk of stroke, and improve brain cell transmission. Good sources of omega-3s include salmon, mackerel, sardines, and albacore tuna. If seafood isn’t your thing, have your doctor recommend a good fish oil supplement.
  • Lean proteins are the foundation of a heart-healthy diet, offering your body the fuel it needs without the bad fats and cholesterol. Prioritize chicken, turkey, fish, eggs and tofu as good protein sources, and limit
    red meat intake to once a week, tops. Also avoid full-fat dairy products, 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. Load up on all citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, and blueberries, as well as broccoli, leafy greens (think spinach and kale over romaine), peppers, and tomatoes.

Ready to get cooking? The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s DASH Diet is a great place to start. Although designed chiefly to prevent heart disease (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), its benefits to the brain are widely recognized by health experts. The US News and World Report recently ranked DASH the best overall diet for the 8th year in a row. Learn more and download the info you need at the NIH website.

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