1. Mediterranean Diet may be good for your brain. Studies indicate that this diet is related to decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome. It also appears to be less damaging to small blood vessels in the brain. In a 2009 study, those following a Mediterranean-like diet were 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s over a 5-year period.
What is this diet?
*increased intake of fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber grains, fish and mono-unsaturated fats (olive oil, nuts)
*decreased intake of red meat, high-fat dairy and saturated fats (baked goods)
2. Over-eating may increase risk of memory loss. Decreasing calories and avoiding calorically dense foods is not just good for the heart and waistline but good for the brain as well! A 10-year British study of 6401 individuals between 39-63 year of age showed that the greater the BMI (body mass index) the greater the mental decline.
3. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may protect against stroke. A new Swedish study showed a 17% decrease in stroke with a diet rich in polyphenols. Eating more “polyphenol- rich” foods like fruits (especially citrus), vegetables, whole grains, tea, and dark chocolate may decrease risk of stroke.
4. A high potassium, low sodium, and polyphenol-rich diet is ideal for reducing blood pressure and stroke risk.
5. Trans-fats may make you grouchy! Trans-fat in store-bought baked goods and in fried foods may increase aggression and irritability. Why? They seem to inhibit the synthesis of omega-3 fatty acids, compounds associated with decreased aggression and irritability. Avoid store-bought baked goods, fried foods, and foods that have partially hydrogenated fat listed as an ingredient. Trans-fats are the worst type of fat to consume, not just in regard to brain health but heart health as well. Even a small amount of trans-fat is too much.
6. Eating more fish may protect the brain. Omega-3-rich food (containing EPA and DHA) appear to improve mental health and decrease the rate of brain aging. Foods rich in omega-3 include salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, anchovies and sardines.
7. Exercise may keep the brain young. Seniors who walked at least 9 miles per week (1 ¼ miles per day) had an increase in gray brain matter volume and less memory loss. Wear a pedometer daily to become aware of how many steps you actually take. Approximately 2250 steps = 1 mile.
8. Weight lifting could improve cognition. 70-80 year old women doing machine and free-weight training twice weekly for 6 months had significant improvements on cognitive and memory tests.
9. Adequate vitamin D (in elderly people greater than 65 years old) is linked with better executive function (plan, organize, details and abstract thinking) and less white brain matter loss. A low blood level of vitamin D appears to be linked to increased risk of dementia. Vitamin D deficiency is more prevalent in obese and elderly individuals. Elderly central Ohioans should consider taking 1,000 IU of Vitamin D daily, especially during winter months when sun exposure is limited.
10. Vitamin B12 decreases with age and is linked to brain shrinkage and increased dementia. As we age, less stomach acid and less intrinsic factor are produced. Both are needed to absorb B12. Certain drugs like metformin and antacids may decrease B12 absorption as well. B12 supplements (and fortified foods like cereal) are effective ways to meet B12 needs as we get older. B12 deficiency may present as anemia, fatigue, numbness/tingling of hands or feet, taste changes, depression, confusion and poor memory. Vitamin B12 is found mainly in meat, chicken, eggs, dairy, fortified foods, or supplements.
Kathy Barrows, PhD, RD