Eating Your Way to a Healthy Brain
I get the privilege to work with family caregivers of someone that is living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. A real concern for these family members is wondering if they will also get Alzheimer’s disease, and they frequently ask me what they can do to prevent getting the disease. My quick answer is there are several things you can do that can reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s. We can’t use the word ‘prevent’ because we don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s, but numerous studies show that our lifestyle choices plan a huge part in greatly reducing our risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease or another variation of dementia. Some of these lifestyle choices include; physical and mental exercise, getting good sleep, managing stress, staying socially active, and a healthy diet.
Just focusing on our diet and understanding how much food affects our brain is eye-opening and empowering. The Society of Neuroscience says, “Despite comprising only 2 percent of the body’s weight, the brain gobbles up more than 20 percent of daily energy intake. Because the brain demands such high amounts of energy, the foods we consume greatly affect brain function, including everything from learning and memory to emotions. Studies suggest the quality of the foods consumed over the lifetime affects the structure and function of the brain. For instance, the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish provides structural material to maintain neurons. Studies also suggest omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the transmission of information between brain cells. In contrast, foods that are rich in sugars and saturated fats have been found to promote oxidative stress, which leads to damage of cell membranes.”
This is encouraging information because it shows we have power to make sure our brains stay healthy as we age and operating at an optimal level!
The Mediterranean diet has been studied and shown that it can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by up to 54%. Among these studies, they have shown that individuals that adhere to the Mediterranean diet had more volume and more gray and white matter in their brains than those who did not follow the diet. These studies were done over a three-year period and followed people that were 73-80 years old.
The Mediterranean is also heart-healthy. This diet reduces your risk of heart disease mainly be lowering your LDL (or lousy) cholesterol that is more likely to build up in your arteries. If it is good for your heart, it is good for your brain.
Another benefit of this diet is it is good for the waistline!
This Mediterranean diet is easy to follow. The main components are:
- Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts
- Using healthy fats like olive or canola oils to cook with rather than butter
- Flavor foods with herbs and spices instead of salt
- Limit eating red meat to no more than a few times a month
- Eat fish and seafood at least twice a week
- Eat moderate portions of poultry and dairy daily or weekly
- Enjoy meals with family and friends
- Drink red wine in moderation (optional)
- Get plenty of exercise
There is a lot of information about brain foods and super foods. Having a basic knowledge about these foods and nutrients is imperative to helping you live healthier and happier.
The main thing to remember is that we have a choice, multiple times a day, to eat something that will either help or hinder the functioning and health of our brains.