How we care for ourselves day-to-day can affect our long-term health. For years, we have heard about heart-healthy food. However, recently, research has indicated there are plenty of foods that promote brain health.
Of course, the better we take care of ourselves while we are young, the better our long-term health prognosis will be as we age. While this is true for most parts of our body, we are going to be focusing on cognitive health today.
What Is Cognitive Decline?
Cognitive decline is often associated with normal signs of aging. When cognitive decline occurs, this means that the person is becoming cognitively impaired. A person may have cognitive impairment if they have trouble remembering important dates or facts, concentrating, or learning new things. They may also struggle to make decisions. Cognitive impairment can range from mild to severe.
Cognitive decline can also indicate that something larger is at play. Cognitive impairment is often associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. While many people suffer from these degenerative conditions, there can be other reasons for cognitive decline, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, and developmental disabilities.
Many factors play into cognitive decline and the development of degenerative diseases. For example, the risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease include age, family history, and genetics. Research has also begun to suggest general lifestyle and wellness may slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other conditions associated with cognitive decline.
How Can Food Help Prevent Cognitive Decline?
Before we look at the exact foods that prevent cognitive decline, we first want to discuss how these foods really help. Foods that are good for our brain health are rich in vitamins and nutrients. The following are a list of vitamins and nutrients that help combat cognitive decline and promote overall health and wellness:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Healthy fats
- Lean protein
Research has shown that cognitive decline can start when a person is in their 20s or 30s. Therefore, incorporating a healthy diet into your routine at a young age can help enhance your quality of life as you age.
12 Foods That Promote Cognitive Health
There are many different diets out there that promote a healthy intake of necessary vitamins and nutrients as we age. Mediterranean and DASH diets incorporate nutrition plans that are good for the heart. However, recently, researchers have combined these two to create the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). You can find many different diets similar to this one, but they all have foods in common. Here are some of the types of food that promote cognitive health and help prevent cognitive decline.
1. Grapes and Berries
Experts recommend eating grapes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries at least twice per week. While other types of fruit are not necessarily recommended in brain-healthy diets, berries are full of antioxidant-rich vitamins.
Your brain requires a lot of oxygen, but this means your brain is more at risk of being attacked by free radicals than other parts of the body. Research shows that antioxidants counteract the negative impact of free radicals attacking brain cells, which results in memory loss.
Due to their high concentration of antioxidants, some of these fruits, including blueberries, have been found to delay short-term memory loss.
Nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pecans are a healthy, filling snack, and they promote cognitive health. Nuts are full of healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants. Nuts can also help lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease in addition to cognitive decline.
A University of South Australia study of 4822 Chinese adults over the age of 55 found that eating more than 10 grams of nuts per day increased cognitive function by up to 60 percent when compared to those who were not eating nuts. This shows that nuts are highly effective at warding off cognitive decline.
You should eat nuts at least five times per week. Fortunately, they are an easily portable snack that can help keep you full while you are going about your business.
3. Fatty Fish
There are many reasons why fish is incorporated into so many diets. Fish is a lean source of protein, but it is also full of vitamins and minerals that boost brain health.
Salmon, in particular, is beneficial to our cognitive health because it is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. The brain uses omega-3s to develop brain and nerve cells that are vital to learning and memorization. It is also believed that omega-3s slow age-related mental decline, which could reduce the risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Fatty fish like salmon also protect brain function and play a crucial role in improving memory and preventing depression.
Other great fish for fatty acids include trout
and sardines. You should eat fish at least once per week; however, you can also eat it every day as your daily source of protein.
4. Dark Chocolate
If you are a chocolate lover, you’ll be happy to know that dark chocolate has antioxidant compounds that boost memory and limit the risk of cognitive decline. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain the antioxidant polyphenol. Chocolate is also packed with caffeine that can increase alertness, improve mood, and enhance concentration.
In fact, many studies have been held to test the effects of high-potency cacao on cognition as well as many other things like mood, insulin sensitivity, and blood vessel function. One study found that eating 48 grams of dark chocolate (70 percent cacao) increased gamma waves across multiple areas of the cortex, which is related to cognition and memory, shortly after consuming dark chocolate.
Other studies have found that consumption of dark chocolate is related to improved memory function and changes in the part of the brain that is linked to age-related memory decline.
While too much coffee can have adverse effects on your heart health, one cup per day has been linked to slowing cognitive decline. Coffee contains both caffeine and antioxidants. Studies have also shown that long-term coffee drinking is linked to a reduced risk of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These benefits are linked to the antioxidants found in coffee that fight inflammation and oxidative stress.
While caffeine is not the main ingredient in coffee that helps with cognition, it does help keep your brain alert, boost serotonin, and increases your ability to focus.
6. Green Leafy Vegetables
Including vegetables in your diet offers many benefits to your overall health. Kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and other nutrients that reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Cilantro is a leafy herb that is high in antioxidants, and therefore, great for promoting brain health. The vitamin K, folate, and phytonutrients found in leafy greens are also known to promote healthy cell growth and reduce inflammation.
In addition to leafy greens, you should also include other vegetables, such as carrots, asparagus, zucchini, and beets in your diet. Vegetables are good for your overall health, and research shows that your health and wellness plays a role in cognitive health.
7. Green Tea
Like coffee, green tea is a source of caffeine that enhances brain function. Green tea can also be a great alternative to coffee if you aren’t able to drink it due to a heart or other health condition requiring you to limit large amounts of caffeine.
In addition to caffeine, green tea contains other components that are beneficial to brain health, such as antioxidants. Polyphenol is an antioxidant found in green tea that has numerous benefits, including, of course, improved brain function. Green tea also contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which helps increase the activity of GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety and helps you feel relaxed.
You probably know that oranges are a great source of vitamin C. In fact, one medium orange can contain all the vitamin C you need per day. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and therefore, adequate consumption of vitamin C is required for preventing cognitive decline and boosting brain health.
While oranges are probably the richest source of vitamin C, bell peppers, kiwi, tomatoes, and guava are other foods with high amounts of the vitamin.
9. Olive Oil
Research suggests that people who cook primarily with virgin or extra-virgin olive oil saw prolonged brain health compared to those who used butter. These studies found that extra-virgin olive oil may have a neuroprotective effect that could possibly prevent the development of dementia and delay cognitive decline. Olive oil also contains vitamin E, a nutrient that is known for having a positive effect on the brain.
Diets, such as the MIND diet, say that you should limit butter and margarine intake to just one tablespoon per day. Adding more virgin olive oils is a better substitute. Avocado oil is another good alternative to butter, margarine, and vegetable and canola oils.
10. Pumpkin Seeds
Like many of the other foods on this list, pumpkin seeds are packed with antioxidants. However, they also provide our bodies with magnesium, zinc, iron, and copper, which all offer many health benefits and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Magnesium is vital to learning and memorization and has been linked to a decreased risk of developing neurological conditions. Both zinc and cooper aid in your body’s nerve signal; therefore, zinc and copper deficiencies are linked to neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Beans and lentils, both part of the legume family, are also included in the MIND diet. Nutritionists say that we should eat at least three servings of beans or lentils each week. This is because beans are full of calcium, zinc, iron, and selenium. Lifelong low levels of selenium are associated with lower cognitive function; iron is also known for normalizing cognitive function, especially in young women. A study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine has even found a correlation between legumes and increased cognitive performances in the elderly.
12. Red Wine
While large quantities of alcohol are never recommended, one glass of red wine a day offers several health benefits, including reduced risk of numerous cancers and cardiovascular diseases. The flavonoids in red wine, which are what also makes coffee beneficial to the brain, offer neuroprotective qualities for the brain, as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, low doses of red wine improve the brain’s ability to remove waste, including proteins that are associated with forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s.
At Midwest Regenerative Health and Pain Clinic, our goal is to treat patients using both conventional and regenerative treatment options for prolonged health and quality of life. While neurodegenerative diseases are not yet curable, various treatments can slow the progression of these diseases and provide patients with a high quality of life for as long as possible. Call our team at 913-745-5300 to schedule a consultation.