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Video: Help age-proof your brain

  1. Transcript of: Help age-proof your brain

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: If you feel like your brain isn't as sharp as it used to be, now you can help age -proof your mind by feeding it the right foods. Courtenay Smith is the executive editor of Prevention magazine and one of the authors of "The Brainpower Game Plan." Courtenay , good morning. It's great to see you.

    Ms. COURTENAY SMITH (Editor, Prevention Magazine): Good morning, Lester .

    HOLT: We spend so much time talking about exercising our bodies and strengthening muscles and losing weight, but we don't often think about that we can affect our mind.

    Ms. SMITH: Yes, the foods that you eat is one of the most important influences on your everyday brain skills from your concentration to your memory and it can even help prevent Alzheimer's disease .

    HOLT: We've got a lot of food here on this table, let's get started. Fatty fish . I hear about this. This is the omega-3s, right?

    Ms. SMITH: Yes. An essential omega-3 fatty acid in salmon, tuna, mackerel, Sardines is DHA , and 40 percent of the fatty acids in your brain cells membranes is DHA . And a study found that people who eat fish three times a week and have the highest levels of DHA in their blood reduce their risk of Alzheimer's disease by almost 40 percent.

    HOLT: So this is a no-brainer, if you will, for your brain .

    Ms. SMITH: Yes. Twice a week.

    HOLT: Yeah. Quickly, though, the tuna you got to be careful because of mercury, right? Not too much of that?

    Ms. SMITH: Yes. Limit to six ounces a week.

    HOLT: Right.

    Ms. SMITH: But do eat fish for two to three times a week.

    HOLT: All right. Green, leafy vegetables . We hear a lot about that, too. What does that do for your brain ?

    Ms. SMITH: These are all part of the cruciferous family of vegetables. They're one of the most powerful brain protectors. Women who ate the most, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, they reduced the age of their brain one to two years, in a Harvard study. And it's because of antioxidants like vitamin C and carotenoids that protect from damage from free radicals.

    HOLT: So eat as much of this as you can.

    Ms. SMITH: Yes. Eat these daily.

    HOLT: Good stuff.

    Ms. SMITH: And pile on extra colors, purple vegetables, yellow vegetables, that gets you more antioxidants.

    HOLT: All right. Talk to me about the importance of oils, natural oils, in a diet.

    Ms. SMITH: So important. We have them in nuts, seeds, avocado. These are all high in another key antioxidant, vitamin E , and researchers have found that people who eat vitamin E in moderation from food, Lester , not supplements...

    HOLT: Yeah.

    Ms. SMITH: ...they reduce their risk of Alzheimer's disease by 67 percent. So again, eat these frequently. Aim for 15 milligrams of vitamin E every day, that's the equivalent of two ounces of almonds.

    HOLT: There's some fat in here, but this is all good fat.

    Ms. SMITH: It's healthy fat.

    HOLT: It's healthy fat.

    Ms. SMITH: And so easy. Toss some avocado in a salad. Use olive oil to dip bread into it. Very simple.

    HOLT: And if you're feeling deprived, she threw some chocolate in the mix here, but dark chocolate specifically.

    Ms. SMITH: Dark chocolate . Look for the kinds that are 70 percent cocoa. They're high in flavonoids, which is another antioxidant that some research links to better brain health.

    HOLT: OK.

    Ms. SMITH: So one ounce a day, just to keep the calories in a reasonable level.

    HOLT: OK. And what are we talking about here, whole grains? First this.

    Ms. SMITH: Well, here we have Thai takeout...

    HOLT: Uh-huh .

    Ms. SMITH: ...which is loaded with curcumin, which is a spice that is anti-inflammatory, and animal research shows that is actually clears away Alzheimer's disease -causing proteins in the brain . Now we do need human research, but it's easy to order Thai and Indian takeout, throw curry powder in salad dressings, meat marinades.

    HOLT: Sure. Sure.

    Ms. SMITH: And here are the whole grains you mentioned.

    HOLT: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. SMITH: Great for your concentration. The fiber in oats and brown rice helps keep your blood sugar steady. Your brain relies on blood glucose for fuel, so you want a steady supply. When you eat refined versions of these carbohydrates, you get a spike and a plummet that will ruin your concentration.

    HOLT: And you want us to drink lots of water, too.

    Ms. SMITH: Yes. Because the brain is three-quarters water, your cells need it to thrive. Studies show when you're well-hydrated you do better on brain power tests. So six to eight glasses a day to keep your concentration maximized.

TODAY books

Explainer: Foods to fuel your mind

  • 1. Fatty fish

    Getty Image Stock
    Seafood like salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and sardines are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, powerful and versatile nutrients that are essential for a healthy mind. About 40% of the fatty acids in brain cell membranes are DHA, one of the main omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. Experts believe it's probably necessary for transmitting signals between brain cells.

    In a 2006 study, researchers at Tufts University found that people who ate fish 3 times a week and had the highest levels of DHA in their blood slashed their risk of Alzheimer's disease by 39%.

    Eat it: At least twice a week (limit albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces a week to minimize mercury exposure).

  • 2. Leafy green and cruciferous veggies

    Robert Byron  /  FeaturePics stock
    Pile salads, stir-fries, and side dishes with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, and brussels sprouts. They're filled with antioxidants like vitamin C and plant compounds called carotenoids, which are particularly powerful brain protectors.

    Antioxidants prevent damage from free radicals, which are waste products your body makes when cells use fuel to create energy. Your brain is especially vulnerable to damage from free radicals because it uses a lot of fuel (it's only about 3% of your body weight but uses up to 17% of your energy). Since your mind makes a lot of these toxic by-products, ample antioxidants help to disarm and defuse them.

    While all antioxidants (from a variety of plants) are good for your brain, these cruciferous veggies are especially effective. A Harvard Medical School study of more than 13,000 women found that those who ate the most lowered their brain age by 1 to 2 years.

    Eat it: Daily, as part of a well-rounded mix of other colorful veggies.

  • 3. Avocado, oils, nuts, and seeds

    Igor Dutina  /  FeaturePics stock
    They all contain another important antioxidant: vitamin E. In one study, researchers found that people who consumed moderate amounts vitamin E — from food, not supplements — lowered their risk of AD by 67%.

    Eat it: Frequently; shoot for 15 mg of E a day, the equivalent of 2 ounces of almonds.

  • 4. Chocolate

    FeaturePics stock
    Sweeten your brain-boosting diet with the dark kind (at least 70% cocoa); it contains flavonoids, another class of antioxidants that some research links to brain health. Other flavonoid-rich foods include apples, red and purple grapes, red wine, onions, tea, and beer.

    Eat it: Frequently, as part of a healthy total calorie intake. Up to half an ounce daily has also been shown to lower blood pressure.

  • 5. Curry

    Thor Jorgen Udvang  /  FeaturePics stock
    Go for Thai or Indian takeout; these cuisines often use the potent spice known to fight inflammation. Animal studies have shown that curry's active ingredient, curcumin, actually clears away Alzheimer's-causing proteins in the brain called amyloid plaques (though more research is needed in humans).

    Eat it: As an ingredient in pasta sauces, salad dressings, or meat marinades.

  • 6. Whole grains

    FeaturePics stock
    Fiber-rich oatmeal, oat bran, brown rice, and so on help stabilize blood glucose (sugar) levels, compared with refined carbs like white bread and sugary foods. Your body digests these simple sugars quickly, so you have a sudden energy spike — and subsequent plummet.

    Since glucose is the brain's main source of fuel, it's important to keep levels steady; during a crash, you'll feel tired and crabby and have trouble concentrating.

    Eat them: Daily, aiming for 25 grams of fiber; fruits, vegetables, and beans are other good sources.

  • 7. Water

    Image: Water coming from a faucet
    Don Farrall  /  Getty Images stock
    Every cell in your body needs water to thrive, and your brain cells are no exception; in fact, about three-quarters of your brain is water. A small Ohio University study found that people whose bodies were well hydrated scored significantly better on tests of brainpower, compared with those who weren't drinking enough.

    Drink it: Throughout the day; aim to sip 6 to 8 glasses total.

    More from Prevention

  • 'Brainpower Game Plan'

    Excerpted from Prevention's “Brainpower Game Plan” by Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., and the Editors of Prevention.


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