What & how you eat affects your health, how you feel, and – of course – your weight… but could it also affect how well you think? There’s evidence that eating a healthy diet can improve brain health and slow cognitive decline. While adults with memory loss probably can’t solely rely on eating healthy foods and expect memory loss issues to disappear, a better diet could still benefit the brain.
Eating for a healthier brain shouldn’t sound so different than eating for a healthy heart. Many of the same healthy practices – like the foods you choose – apply to both brain health and to general good health & nutrition. But there are some tips and specific foods to look for when it comes to better brain health. Here are some of our recommendations:
The best brain foods are similar to those foods that are recommended by and included on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet. These are diets that are rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting fat and sugar intake.
You’ve always heard that you should eat your veggies and that they’re good for your body – but they’re also good for your brain! Green leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, spinach, and lettuce may be able to lower the risk of cognitive decline, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Leafy greens contain nutrients like folate, vitamin E, carotenoids, and flavonoids. Berries like blueberries and strawberries also contain high levels of flavonoids, which may slow rates of cognitive decline. They’re also packed with vitamins C and E and contain antioxidants. Plus, even if you’ve never been a fan of vegetables, it’s nice to know that some fruits can also deliver brain-boosting benefits. And if you don’t like veggies… it’s never too late to try and become a more versatile eater who can learn to like, or at least tolerate, all those greens!
In terms of snacks, nuts are a great choice for brain health. They contain lots of vitamin E, which may offer brain-protective qualities. Nuts are high in calories and fat however, so eat them frequently but stick to having just a handful or other reasonable portion. Nuts can also be high in sodium, too, if they’re flavored or salted – so avoid overeating salty versions. Nuts are a smart substitute for chips, cookies, or other low-nutrition snacks.
Legumes, like beans, are a great source of folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium. They also contain plenty of the nutrient choline, which acts as a neurotransmitter critical for brain function, according to Dementia.org. Folate may help to keep depression at bay, which is important for residents with dementia and memory loss since depression can be a common side-effect of memory loss. When it comes to indulgence, dark chocolate is best as it contains flavanols that may help improve blood flow to the brain.
For memory care residents, it’s important to remember that even the healthiest of diets likely won’t reverse symptoms of memory loss and dementia. While a decline in memory and cognitive abilities might not be entirely avoidable for older adults with memory loss, a diet of nutrient-rich foods could still improve outcomes, quality of life, and even limit dementia’s advance. While some residents may try and stick to only foods that they like, it’s important to encourage consumption of healthier food options, too, when possible.
Following the Mediterranean diet – which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts – may lower stroke risk and improve cognitive abilities in older age. One study indicated that this diet may even protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
While it’s difficult to draw a clear connection between any single nutrient or so-called superfood and better brain health & cognitive function, some nutrients might improve the overall health of your neurons. Foods with vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, anti-inflammatory B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids are all recommended for neuronal health, according to the American Heart Association. While the mechanisms and structural elements of the brain are complex, it stands to reason that diets that are good for heart health are good for brain health too!
At the same time, some foods can be damaging to the brain. Most foods that are bad for the heart are likely equally not good for the brain either. Foods high in saturated fat increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and might also increase the risk of cognitive problems. The sluggishness or drowsiness experienced after a high-fat, high-sugar meal indicates that what you just ate probably wasn’t doing your brain any favors! Nutrients from food are broken down and taken up into the bloodstream before being carried up to the brain – so both healthy and unhealthy foods will ultimately make their way to the brain.
As mentioned, sometimes it can seem like a lot to remember all of the daily dietary needs & nutrients that your body requires to fuel up right – and while it’s never too late to start eating right, it can help to have some assistance when it comes to doing what is best for you and your body. Thrive’s senior living communities serve healthy and delicious meals in their dining rooms as well as snacks throughout the day, and we work to tailor meals to individuals’ dietary and health requirements as well as their likes and dislikes.
At Thrive, we offer tasty and nutritious food & beverage options for our residents day in and day out. And we haven’t even yet mentioned an important part of healthy eating: socializing! Meals can be best enjoyed in the company of friends and neighbors. The social aspect of enjoying a meal together can’t be overlooked, and it’s something that even the most nutritious food alone can’t provide.
Even with healthy options, we do offer chances for our residents to indulge too! If you’d like to know more about healthy eating or the meal options at Thrive, contact a Thrive Senior Living community near you today.