Food for thought

Everyone knows that one of the biggest concerns of oldsters is preserving brain function and avoiding dementia and Alzheimer’s. While the gradual decline of cognitive abilities and motor skills was once thought simply to be a part of advancing age, new studies would indicate that there is a direct connection between what you eat and the health of your brain.

Scientists searching for new ways to treat diet-related disorders such as obesity and diabetes have discovered that, binging on soft drinks and sugary snacks high in sucrose and fructose corn syrup for as little as six weeks can reduce brain function. “The study, which was conducted on rats, is the first to show that a diet high in fructose slows the brain, which hampers memory and learning.”

To further compound matters, it also appears that once your brain gets hooked on sugar, skipping breakfast may actually make matters worse because the pleasure-seeking part of the brain is then activated by pictures of high-calorie food, making it more likely that you will choose an unhealthy treat to satisfy the craving.

Studies at UCLA have concluded that “Diet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function … raising the exciting possibility that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the effects of aging.”

This also suggests that even an older person’s mind can be positively impacted by a switch to a healthier diet and that some foods actually enhance brain function. In particular foods such as salmon, walnuts and kiwi, which are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, have the capacity to counteract a host of mental disorders including dementia.

These foods have also been identified as having the potential to protect the brain as it ages:

  • blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions
  • Nuts which are high in vitamin E such as hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed ward off cognitive decline (be sure to choose unsalted nuts if your doctor has recommended that you watch your sodium intake)
  • Avocados which are high in monounsaturated fat, contribute to brain health by lowering blood pressure and promoting healthy blood flow to all parts of the body including the brain
  • Two to three cups of freshly brewed tea which contain low levels of caffeine can boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus, and mood
  • A preliminary new study links two cups of hot cocoa per day to improved memory skills in the elderly who had low levels of blood flow in their brains (this refers to real homemade cocoa as the sugar and preservatives in packaged mixes are too high)

For further reading on the effects of food on the brain try any one of the following articles:

Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121017091724.htm

CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57558579/need-your-brain-this-food-can-make-you-dumber/

Web MD: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/eat-smart-healthier-brain

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