What diet can delay your brain’s cognitive decline? And why is it so important to have proper brain nutrition? Dr. Nuño, Ph.D. shares his knowledge and some pearls of wisdom you won’t find anywhere else.
There is lots of research on brain nutrition to identify the best diet for brain health. And there is extensive proof that supports the relationship between diet and cognitive functions.
Furthermore, there is accumulating evidence that combinations of food and nutrients may act synergistically to provide stronger health benefits than those conferred by the individual dietary components.
Oftentimes we see the Mediterranean diet endorsed as medical advice to prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias. But, how much of this is true? What foods help maintain cognitive function and delay its decline?
Let’s review what scientific research tells us.
Can Brain Healthy Foods Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
A proper diet can make a difference and reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Different types of foods can have an effect in brain function.
We want to get involved along these brain aging processes where we have oxidative stress and different types of inflammation.
We can intervene in those phases before our brain cells advance to Alzheimer’s disease.
Brain Nutrition: What is the Best Diet for Brain Health?
• Proper nutrition is important to keep the body strong and healthy.
• For a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, poor nutrition may increase behavioral symptoms and cause weight loss.Source: Alzheimer’s Association
While there are studies trying to find the best food type to help cognitive function, most research shows that it’s not the individual foods but their combination that shows the most benefits. In particular, a couple of specific types of dietary patterns.
- the Mediterranean dietary pattern, associated with decreased cognitive decline and incident Alzheimer’s disease.
- the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet also has neuroprotective actions.
Nutrition and the Brain: Is the Mediterranean Diet a Fad?
No. the Mediterranean diet is not a fad diet. It is a series of dietary guidelines meant to help make healthy choices.
The Mediterranean dietary pattern offers a variety of foods to choose from.
- Olive oil as a main source of fat
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Minimally processed food
- Frequent fish consumption and red meat in moderation
- Eggs as a as a source of protein
- Wine in moderation with meals
- Sweets, cakes and dairy desserts only occasionally
Like its culture, the Mediterranean diet guides you for the actual meal and for its process too. Eat your moderate portioned sized meal in the company of others to make them enjoyable and sort of an event. And add moderate physical activity.
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Can the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet Delay Cognitive Decline?
The DASH diet has less guidelines, but a lot of similarities.
- Eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- Fat free or low fat dairy products, fish and poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
- Limiting foods that are high in saturated fats; such as fatty meats, full fat dairy products and tropical oils, such as coconut, palm, and kernel oils
- Limiting sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and sweets
Brain Healthy Foods: What Does a Healthy Meal Look Like?
A healthy plate or portion – not too big, not too small – with a variety of foods and colors supports brain health. Add as many natural foods as possible and keep processed foods to a minimum. Preferably drink water with meals and minimize sugar and salt.
- Avoid processed foods you want to have as much natural foods as possible
And what I call the three G’s:
But note that in later stages of Alzheimer’s disease if loss of appetite is a problem, adding sugar to foods may encourage eating.
Examples of Brain Healthy Vegetables that Improve Cognition
Vegetables are our power food. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. For example, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Kale, radish, and tomatoes. If they are cruciferous and leafy green then they are good for us.
We have studied the effect of phytochemicals in randomized control trials to see if a particular chemical – like Beta Carotene or Gingko – taken individually made a difference in brain health. And our research suggests that their effect on the brain is higher when eaten in combination with different healthy vegetables.
Should Fats be part of a Healthy Diet? Examples of Good Fats
Fats get a bad reputation but there are good fats. Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as opposed to saturated fats or trans fats.
Research shows that good fats lower bad cholesterol and help improve good cholesterol. Some studies show that polyunsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids help improve memory and cognition.
These are the fats that are good for us:
- Olive, canola, peanut and sesame oils
- Fatty fish
- Lean cuts of meats. The leaner of the better, like chicken and turkey, as opposed to red meats.
Carbs can Also Help Delay Cognitive Decline: Examples of Good Carbohydrates
Good carbs are high in fiber and high in antioxidants. They help fight the oxidative stress and are found in all fruits, especially in berries.
Berries – like blueberries and strawberries – are some of the best types of fruits you can eat. Any whole fruit would be good for you but those that lower the glycemic index are even better.
Even the ones that are higher in sugar are still good for you. It’s hard to overeat apples, oranges, or pineapples. It would be very difficult as they are very filling because of their fiber.
But if you juice five apples and you drink the juice, you’ll get all the sugar without the benefit of the fiber and other nutrients. These are left out when you juice them.
So, the recommendation is to eat whole fruits, whole grains, whole beans and vegetables. Vegetables are super food coming up as good carbohydrates, as well as good vegetables. Thus, vegetables are the best types of foods you can eat.
Brain Nutrition: What’s the Best Diet for Brain Health?
The best diet for brain health is a mix. You can’t go wrong with having vegetables as part of your daily meals as they have a lot of antioxidants and fiber.
Berries and fruits are a great addition to your diet. Studies show that Omega-3 fatty fish can have positive effects on the brain.
Everything we have covered in this article, consumed in moderation has all the different properties you need for good nourishment of the brain.
Foods that are Good for your Brain: Final Thoughts
Run an inventory of what you are eating to start making a dietary change. You will notice that cutting down on the extra sweets and processed foods makes a huge difference. Try to cut down on french fries and potato chips for lunch.
Minimize sugar in terms of sweetened drinks. Cutting down on soda is a little tough because of the caffeine angle. But have water with every meal and every now and then treat yourself with Sprite or a chocolate milk.
Dark chocolate is very high in antioxidants ad help reduce the oxidative stress in our bodies. Be careful with how much chocolate you eat. Two or three little cubes of dark chocolate every day is plenty.
Eggs are listed in the Mediterranean diet and they make a brilliant breakfast meal. Very high vitamins, minerals and color. Their reputation in terms of cholesterol is untrue. They don’t adversely affected cholesterol levels.
I haven’t mentioned protein and focused more on carbs and fats. If you eat well, different types of foods, lean meats, fats and carbs you’ll find that you get the amount of protein you need.
Even though protein is a macro nutrient, focus more on the fats and carbohydrates and having some time to physically exercise.
Both physical activity and nutrition help reduce the oxidative stress and inflammation process. Not only foods work synergistically but physical activity does too. Walking is one of the best things you can do.
So, if you’re eating those french fries, donuts, cupcakes and cookies every single day, you’re not going to be able to exercise that diet. Go for the occasional treat.
Would you like to watch Dr. Nuño’s Nutrition and Alzheimer’s presentation on our YouTube channel? It includes a deliciously health cooking recipe!
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Dr. Tomás Nuño, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. He has a joint appointment in the Division of Public Health Practice and Translational Research in the Mel and Eunid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. Dr. Nuño conducts research on chronic disease disparities among underserved populations, particularly cardiovascular disease and diabetes prevention.
Dr. Nuño received a three-year National Cancer Institute Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities grant as part of the University of Arizona Cancer Center R25T Cancer Prevention and Control Translational Research Training Program.
These events are sponsored by the University of Arizona. Arizona State University, the University of Miami, Johns Hopkins University, The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the MindCrowd project.