Last week I discussed the connection between certain anti-inflammatory foods and decreased dementia risk. According to Advances in Nutrition an International Review Journal, “nutrition is an important modifiable risk factor that plays a role in the strategy to prevent or delay the onset of dementia.” A modifiable factor is something that you have the ability to change. This means that you can decrease your risk by choosing the right types of brain foods.
I left you with a list of brain foods that were particularly beneficial and promised to discuss their benefits this week.
In case you forgot, the Brain Foods are:
- Chia Seeds
If you didn’t already notice, many of these brain foods are staples in the Mediterranean Diet. Results of various studies that were published in Advances in Nutrition found that better adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with less cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer disease.
The cognitive impact of brain foods consumed isn’t limited to the elderly or those with dementia, however. In the article “Diet-Induced Cognitive Deficits: The Role of Fat and Sugar, Potential Mechanisms and Nutritional Interventions”, it was shown that a typical Western diet high in saturated fat (SFA) and refined sugars can impair certain types of memory even in healthy individuals. Healthy undergraduate students whose diets were high in fat and refined sugar exhibited impaired function on memory tasks. In addition, in a laboratory-based test of food intake, they were less accurate at recalling what they had previously eaten and had reduced sensitivity to internal signals of hunger and satiety (leptin which signals satiety and ghrelin signals hunger). They had to eat more before they reported the same level of satiety.
The ill effects of food were also exhibited in school-aged children. In an Australian cohort study, higher intake of a Western diet at age 14 was associated with worse cognitive performance 3 years later. The poor performance was associated with tasks that assessed visual spatial learning, long-term memory and reaction times.
The foods that we eat and feed our children impact cognitive function in the future.
Studies indicate that higher intakes of saturated fats in young adulthood, mid and later life are associated with worse global cognitive function, impairments in prospective memory, memory speed and flexibility and an increased vulnerability to age related deficits and neurological diseases including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
However, as I’ve been telling you, certain brain foods boost your brain function. Those same studies found that higher intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and higher PUFA to SFA ratios are associated with better memory function (even in children) and a reduced risk of memory impairment later in life. These findings specifically pointed to higher intakes of omega-3 PUFA compared to omega-6 PUFA and lower risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in some of the foods on the list: salmon, walnuts and chia seeds.
Also discussed last week, studies have found that higher intakes of carbohydrates, particularly simple sugars (white pasta, white bread, cookies, candies, soda), have been associated with lower cognitive function. A study on elderly people, found that the risk of mild cognitive impairment or dementia increased in those who consumed a high percentage of their energy from carbohydrates. Risk was reduced in those who consumed a high percentage of energy from fat and protein. The same results were found in school-aged children. Wow! I don’t know about you, but this really excites me. We have the ability to take control of our health not just now but long-term!
Ok, back to the brain foods. We’ve seen that the healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, walnuts, and chia seeds are beneficial for brain function. Walnuts also contain antioxidants that play a role in protecting our brain’s DNA from free radical damage.
Now, let’s discuss the other Brain Foods.
Avocados: In addition to providing anti-inflammatory healthy fat and fiber, avocados are rich in folate and Vitamin K. Vitamin K helps reduce the risk of stroke by preventing clotting and both folate and K help increase memory and concentration.
Spinach: Your mom forced you to eat your spinach for a reason. It is packed with antioxidant, leutin, that has been shown to help prevent cognitive decline. It also contains Vitamin E, which helps with the transportation of information to the brain. A diet high in spinach has also been found to reduce risk of stroke.
Broccoli: More than just a tiny green tree, Broccoli is high in lignans, a phytoestrogen compound that has been shown to benefit cognitive kills (thinking, reasoning, remembering, imagining, and learning words. Furthermore, a 2005 study by researchers at King’s College London (United Kingdom) found that broccoli also contains high amounts of glucosinolates. This group of compounds can halt the decline of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which is necessary for the central nervous system to perform properly. Low levels of acetylcholine are common in those with Alzheimer’s Disease, so eat up!
Blueberries: This tiny fruit packs a big punch. High in antioxidants and gallic acid, blueberries help protect our brain from stress and degeneration. They have also been shown to boost memory.
This isn’t an exclusive list of brain foods that boost brain health. Other brain foods include olives/olive oil, other fatty fish (mackerel, tuna), other dark leafy greens (kale, chard, collards, turnip greens), turmeric, ginger, and almonds. An abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats will keep your brain powering along. Adequate fluid intake (1/2 your body weight in ounces of water per day) also helps improve mental clarity and focus.
I’ll leave you with a powerful brain foods boosting smoothie recipe!
- 1 serving Vanilla protein powder (whey or plant-based)
- 1 handful of spinach
- ½ avocado (it makes it creamy)
- 1 cup of blueberries
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 8 ounces of unsweetened vanilla almond milk
- ½ cup ice (or more depending on how thick you like it)
- Blend all ingredients until smooth
- Makes 1 big breakfast smoothie!