The approaching beach weather may have many of us skipping that burger and ordering a salad instead – anything to get us eating healthier, right? But new research is moving beyond the slimming benefits of eating smart to its significant impact on brain health – specifically its impact on memory and reducing risk of cognitive decline. Age-old targets like saturated fat and cholesterol, traditionally thought of as threatening heart function, are increasingly being looked at for their impact on the brain – specifically, as possibly responsible for the proliferation of the beta-amyloid plaques present in Alzheimer’s patients. While the exact connection between the two is still being explored, doctors do know that buildup of cholesterol plaques can damage brain tissue and starve brain cells of the oxygen-rich blood supply they rely on to function properly, thereby undermining cognitive performance and memory retention.
So what foods should we be seeking out to boost brain function and possibly prevent cognitive decline? Many experts recommend what’s known as the Mediterranean Diet, a regimen that’s loaded with “healthy” unsaturated fats, leafy green veggies, and omega-3 fatty acids; in fact some studies suggest eating Mediterranean could reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by 34 to 48 per cent. Here are its core elements:
Unsaturated Fats and Vitamin E: Think nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Also known as the “good fats”, unsaturated fats promote healthy blood flow and blood vessels in the brain. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant linked to lower dementia risk, and is also thought to trap. the free radicals that damage brain cells. Great sources of both include nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts; avocados; olives; flax seed, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds; and whole grain foods like brown rice.
Fish: Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, oily cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout are great choices for lowering levels of beta-amyloid proteins in the blood that increase dementia risk. One study out of Tufts University found those who ate at least three serving of fish per week had a significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than those who ate a fish-free diet.
Fruits and Vegetables: Standouts in this category include blueberries (thought to improve memory and brain function, and tomatoes, which contain the antioxidant lycopene that scientists credit for preventing the brain cell damage seen in Alzheimer’s. Leafy green vegetables are also thought to be highly beneficial in slowing cognitive decline; so the next time you toss a salad, reach for the spinach and kale over the iceberg lettuce. And it seems the brain benefits here aren’t limited to whole foods; one study out of Vanderbilt University found that those who drank three or more servings of fruit or vegetable juice a week lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 76 per cent.
Ready to get cooking? Here are some great recipes to get you started towards better brain health!