8 foods that are good for your ageing brain
Right now, there are over 350,000 Australians living with dementia. By 2050, it is predicted that this number will almost triple (source: wa.fightdementia.org.au/wa/research-and-publications).
While there is no cure for dementia, research has shown that adopting a brain nurturing lifestyle may help reduce the risk of developing dementia.
A ‘brain nurturing lifestyle’ includes regular exercise, a healthy dose of regular socialising, learning new skills or taking on challenges and a nutritional diet.
In this article, we’ll explore the foods associated with good brain health. Your food choices are within your control!
Why is dementia a growing health concern?
As we live longer lives, we also live with higher incidences of degenerative disorders and diseases. Our ancestors’ shorter life expectancy spared many from neurodegenerative conditions. As a result, diseases such as dementia were less prevalent.
The fact is, as our bodies physically age so too do our brains. While there has been no breakthrough research to date in curing or preventing dementia, we do know that a brain healthy lifestyle could reduce your risk.
What foods are good for brain health?
According to the Australian Dementia Research Foundation:
“Dietary patterns have long been associated with decreasing cognitive decline and reducing your risk of dementia. Researchers have now suggested that those who follow the MIND diet can lower their dementia risk by as much as 50%.” – source: dementiaresearchfoundation.org.au > blog published on 1 April 2015.
The acronym MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay – thank goodness for acronyms!
The MIND diet compromises mostly of natural plant foods and minimal animal and high saturated fat foods. Berries, fish, unsaturated fats and green leafy vegetables are highly valued as nurturing brain food with butter, cream, meats and cheeses enjoyed sparingly.
An intake of excess refined sugar and overly processed foods has been found to have a detrimental effect on the brain. Some studies have even indicated that older people on a high sugar, highly processed food diet have a smaller hippocampus (your memory bank!) than those that follow a healthier diet.
Importantly, diets such as the MIND diet won’t prevent dementia, but results indicate it could reduce the risk of developing dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Confusingly, the research about nutrition and risk reduction is conflicting in most cases. The good news is eating healthily and in moderation promotes your physical and mental health and your wellbeing – so there is everything to gain.
Here are eight foods to include in your diet that may help reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as Omega-3 are not produced by our body, so we need to include them in our diets. These fatty acids are needed to help regulate neurotransmitters responsible for mental alertness and focus. EFAs are also thought to protect the blood vessels in your brain and reduce inflammation, promoting neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the growth of new neurons in the brain.
The richest sources of Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish. Consider incorporating krill oil, salmon, sardines mackerel and tuna into your diet.
Part of the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease is evidence of oxidative damage in the brain. Destructive chemical modules called free radicals are responsible for this destruction. Anti-oxidants neutralise free radicals, reducing this oxidative damage associated with ageing.
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of anti oxidants, and the general rule is the more deep and intense the colour, the higher the anti-oxidant potency. Berries fall into this category. Better still, as you reduce your processed sugar intake, berries are a little oasis of sweetness to look forward to in your day!
Plant based oils
Our human brains are fat! Around 60 percent of our brains are composed of fat. Fats play an important role in neurological function. Plant based fats have been found to have an anti-inflammatory effect on our brains. Mono-unsaturated fats have been shown to contribute to improved memory function.
Plant based, unrefined fat sources provide a better concoction of nutrients that our bodies and brains need. Cold pressed hemp oil, olive oil, coconut oil and flaxseed oil are often mentioned in Alzheimer’s related research and attributed to contributing to better neurological functioning.
Here’s another welcome acronym – EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate. EGCG is a polyphenol and potent anti-oxidant found in green tea. EGCG is thought to be the most active of the polyphenols in green tea. Polyphenols are organic molecules with potent anti-oxidant properties.
As with berries, the anti oxidant properties neutralise free radicals, reducing oxidative damage in our brain. Green tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid associated with preventing age related memory decline.
Research has revealed that the natural nitrates in beetroot can increase blood flow to the brain, improving mental performance. That has to be good for all of us, at any age!
Kale and other leafy greens
Folate is important for the production and maintenance of new cells and is essential for brain function. This is why expectant mothers or women planning pregnancy, stock up on folate supplements for their newborn baby’s healthy development. The amino acid homocysteine has been associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, as well as heart disease. Adequate folate and vitamin B12 in your diet may help reduce homocysteine levels. Kale is a rich source of many nutrients including folic acid or folate.
Kale is also a versatile food that can be eaten washed and raw, added to salads, steamed and even roasted!
The mono-saturated fat in avocados plays a role in promoting healthy blood flow. Avocados have also been shown to lower blood pressure. Hypertension is a known risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities so nutrient rich food that can help lower blood pressure, should promote healthy brains.
Avocados are also delicious and easily eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts (think chocolate mousse)!
Curry spice turmeric has attracted a lot of research attention over the last few years and has been popular in Chinese and Ayruvedic medicine for centuries.
Curcumin is the main active organic chemical compound in turmeric and has been found to increase BDNF levels. BDNF stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor associated with promoting neuronal survival in our brain. Curcumin has also been found to be an effective anti-depressant alternative to pharmaceutical medicines. Additionally, studies in cultures where turmeric is a commonly used spice such as India indicate low rates of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s. (source: Mercola.com/health/health-articles; 13 October 2014).
Turmeric acts as a natural and powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. This means it has the potency to fight infection and neutralise free radicals. So it appears there are loads of benefits in a good curry for all of us!
Helpful information sources about brain health
McCusker Alzheimer's Research Foundation - alzheimers.com.au
The Brain Foundation - brainfoundation.org.au