As our population ages, an estimated 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that up to 16 million people could be suffering from this disease. Those are grim numbers and as yet science has not come up with a cure. But can Alzheimer’s be prevented? Should we, before we get to middle age and beyond, be taking steps to prevent cognitive decline?
While there are risk factors for Alzheimer’s such as genetic factors, there is a promising block of research coming out recently that shows that changing our diets may keep our brains healthy and reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Some of the main lifestyle changes we can make include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Staying socially active
- Avoiding tobacco
- Avoiding excess alcohol
- Exercising body and mind regularly
Changing your diet is one of the most important components to brain health. What we eat has a direct impact on all our cellular functions and can help or hurt our brains. The typical American diet these days consists of a lot of processed and junk foods that are causing inflammation in our bodies and brains. Changing to a more holistic and healthy diet will help our bodies function at peak capacity but also help stave off the progression of cognitive decline as we get older.
Diets that are high in foods such as:
- Leafy greens
have been proven by science to help our brains and lower our risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive decline. Plus, they also provide the vitamins, minerals and essential fats that we need to have a healthy and happy body well into older age.
Breaking It Down
To give you an idea of a brain-healthy diet, following these general guidelines at a minimum will help.
- 6 servings a week of green leafy vegetables
- 1 serving a day of other vegetables
- 2 or more servings a week of berries
- 5 servings a week of nuts
- 3 servings a week of beans
- 3 servings a day of whole grains
- 1 serving per week of fish
- 2 servings a week of poultry
- Use olive oil as your main cooking oil
- 1 glass a day of red wine
Foods you should avoid for brain health:
- Refined meats – like hotdogs and baloney
- Powdered cheeses – like American cheese, mac and cheese
- Pastries and sweets
- Fried and fast foods
Benefits of a Brain Healthy Diet
Studies have shown that people who follow these guidelines on a regular basis lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 54%. That’s a large decrease in risk. Even following these guidelines part time reduces your risk by about 35%.
The main takeaway from these studies emphasize that what we eat has a great impact on brain health and cognitive decline. You can also boost your brain power by incorporating some other staples into your diet on a regular basis. These foods allow your brain to operate at peak performance all the time
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More Brain Powerhouse Foods:
- Dark chocolate – Dark chocolate is packed with brain-boosting compounds such as caffeine and antioxidants such as flavonoids. These flavonoids are important for learning and memory and help slow down age related cognitive deficiencies. Chocolate also boosts mood.
- Turmeric – great for reducing inflammation, turmeric contains curcumin, which can directly enter the brain to benefit your brain cells. It can help boost memory and recall, and helps rid the body of amyloid plaques, which are the leading factor in Alzheimer’s. Turmeric can also help ease symptoms of depression by boosting serotonin and dopamine and boosts growth hormones in the brain that help brain cells grow.
- Kale – Kale along with other deep green vegetables are great for the brain. They contain a number of compounds such as Vitamin K that have antioxidants and help reduce inflammation and boost memory. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps form sphingolipids, a fat that’s important for brain cell function.
- Berries – full of body and brain-healthy antioxidants. Dark berries contain anthocyanins, which are plant compounds that act against oxidative stress and inflammation which helps ward of neurodegenerative disease.
- Walnuts – and other nuts are proven to improve heart health, which helps improve breain health. Nuts contain healthy fats, antioxidants and Vitamin E, which shields cell membranes from the damage free radicals cause and slows mental decline. Walnuts in particular also contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health.
- Omega-3 fatty fish – 60% of your brain is fat and Omega-3 helps build brain and nerve cells to keep your brain healthy. It also helps increase gray matter in the brain which controls decision making and emotions.
- Green Tea –Green tea has been shown to improve brain performance, memory and focus. It contains L-Theanine, which is an amino acid that increases GABA in the brain. This helps reduce anxiety and feel more relaxed. L-Theanine also increases alpha brainwaves in the brain which relaxes you without making you feel tired. Green tea also contains antioxidants and polyphenols which protect your brain from mental decline.
- Coffee – If you love your coffee in the morning, you’ll love this one. Both the caffeine and the antioxidants in coffee help your brain stay healthy. Caffeine keeps your brain alert and can also boost serotonin. The antioxidants can help reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
- Eggs – Eggs contain many brain-boosting nutrients such as B6 and B12, which help coordinate brain chemicals and regulate blood sugar. Eggs also contain folate and choline. Better memory and brain function are side effects of choline. Folate deficiency has been linked to higher instances of dementia in the elderly.
Your brain is arguably your most important organ. Without it, the rest of your body cannot function. It controls your thoughts, movements, breathing, heartbeat, senses and continues to work even when you’re asleep. Taking care of your brain by giving it the proper fuel is vitally important. Eating the right quality foods that have vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties nourishes your brain and can help protect it from damage.
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- Understand what a healthy diet looks like for your body
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- and create a sustained lifestyle shift