Not surprisingly, foods that contribute to good health and the prevention of diabetes, cancer and heart disease can also help keep your mind sharp and memories intact. Join me in our latest Dignity Health YRMC Your Healthy Kitchen to learn more about delicious ways to eat well and reduce your risk of dementia. Be sure to try the recipe for tender poached salmon with wild rice and greens—it’s simple, tasty and can be changed up with a variety of greens, grains, spices and herbs.
While the science is relatively new, we know that the brain and nervous system need a balance of foods and nutrients to function well. These include:
- Healthy fats
- High-fiber carbohydrates
Protein is important for building neurotransmitters – essential chemicals that relay messengers throughout the brain and body – as well as maintaining the health and integrity of brain and nerve cells. Research shows that too much or too little protein might increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. While no one can say what is exactly the right amount of protein for individuals, studies suggest diet patterns that feature two to three servings of fish, one to two servings of poultry and three or fewer servings of meat each week are linked to lower risk. It is interesting to note that a serving size of three to four ounces represents much less animal protein than is in the typical American diet. Other daily sources of protein that have neuroprotective effects include beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Brain cells rely on a supply of healthy fats for proper communication, especially an omega 3 fatty acid called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is abundant in fish, shellfish and sea vegetables (seaweed and algae), but is especially concentrated in fatty fish like sardines, herring, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, Arctic char and lake trout. Because many species of fish and seafood are struggling these days, remember to purchase products caught or farmed in a sustainable manner. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch offers a handy guide online to help consumers find the healthiest seafood products.
Fiber and healthy carbohydrates, like those found in fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains also likely offer brain protection. Scientists know that foods that are high in fiber can normalize and moderate blood sugar levels after meals. Strong links between diabetes and increased risk of dementia indicate that sugar and insulin levels in the blood may play a role in memory loss.
Fiber is also needed to maintain healthy digestion and a healthy gut microbiome (the collection of bacteria that live in the digestive system). Research suggests that a high fiber diet can reduce inflammation in the gut and body, which may help prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Remember to check out dozens of delicious, nutrient-packed recipes that support your mind and body on the Your Healthy Kitchen blog. Each recipe has been created or curated to be easy and affordable, and most feature locally grown ingredients. Follow me on Facebook too, where I post photos and videos of meals I make at home, plus links to my favorite food and gardening destinations on the web.