You pay attention to what you eat, you exercise regularly, and you don’t smoke. You do things to take care of your heart, you avoid too much salt and added sugars in your diet, and you’re limiting how much processed food you eat. But are you also taking care of your brain health?
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and it’s a smart time to focus on whether your diet is helping to keep that noggin as sharp as possible. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Plaques form in the brain, which result in a progressive loss of cognitive ability and a decline in the function of daily activities. Six million people in America are living with Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s and dementia have risen by 16%. Additionally, 12% to 18% of people over 60 live with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI causes cognitive changes that are noticeable, but don’t affect the person’s ability to carry out everyday activities.
Here’s a dive into the foods we should all include more regularly to support brain health:
Leafy green vegetables
Need another reason to eat that salad? Studies show that consumption of leafy green vegetables, such as kale, watercress, spinach and collard greens, was associated with slower cognitive decline in older people. And you don’t need to go overboard with the Swiss chard! One serving per day of leafy green veggies was all it took to help slow down brain aging.
Up your intake of greens by adding some kale to your next sandwich, throwing a handful of baby spinach in your smoothie, or mixing sauteed Swiss chard into your penne. This refreshing The Dr. Is In smoothie balances the power of baby spinach and watercress with the natural sweetness of green grapes and banana.
Numerous animal and human studies have been done that support the beneficial effect of grapes on brain function. Grapes help to promote healthy blood flow and blood pressure and reduce oxidative stress in the brain, which all benefit brain health.
Grapes are delicious in yogurt bowls, salads, and appetizers. And instead of using grape jam on your next sandwich, try fresh grapes, like we did in this Sunflower Butter and Grape Sandwich.
Like it does in other diseases, inflammation plays a key role in Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders. Walnuts contain several compounds, including polyphenols, tocopherols and polyunsaturated fatty acids, that help fight inflammation and provide antioxidant benefits. Numerous studies have shown the brain health benefits of including walnuts in a healthy diet.
One cup of fresh blueberries offers vitamin C, plus manganese, vitamin K and anthocyanins, which give the little berries their colorful skins, all for only 80 calories. In addition to providing color, anthocyanins also play a role in protecting the brain. Blueberries are being used in various clinical trials of eating patterns, including Mediterranean, DASH and MIND diets, to see how they can support brain health as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Blueberries are tasty to snack on, and you can also try them in Siri Daly’s Watermelon, Blueberry and Feta Salad.
Extra-virgin olive oil
A cornerstone of the Mediterranean Diet, olive oil contains phenols, a type of antioxidant, that help to keep the brain healthy by reducing inflammation. In addition to protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, olive oil has been shown in studies to provide a benefit in other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and ALS.
Olive oil can be used in so many ways, from salad dressing to sautés. You can even use it in baked goods, like Anne Burrell’s Olive Oil Cake with Blueberry Sauce and Peaches.
One of the most well-documented foods for brain health is fatty fish. Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna and herring, contain DHA omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat. These fatty acids help to protect the brain and may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Look for wild-caught Alaskan salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring.
Chocolate on the brain? That’s a good thing! The flavonoids in cocoa powder, cacao nibs and chocolate provide a benefit for the regions of the brain that involve memory and learning. The main flavonoid—epicatechin—improves various aspects of cognition in humans, helping lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.
We know that milk is good for our bones and that fermented dairy foods help boost gut health, but new links are being discovered between dairy foods and brain health. Our gut has its own nervous system and can produce many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain, such as serotonin.
A study done on older (older than 65) Dutch adults linked higher consumption of yogurt and buttermilk with better executive function, which helps us pay attention, remember details, and manage time, among other things.
Yogurt is a wonderful breakfast or snack, and it can also be used in zesty dressings, marinades and dips, like Joy Bauer’s Cucumber Yogurt Dip.
This month and every month, let’s load up on these brain-boosting foods. Think of it as a delicious and easy way to invest in your future!