Your brain needs a variety of nutrients in order to develop and function properly, and almost everything you consume will directly or indirectly affect your brain. There is much evidence to suggest that what we do for the brain now can have a big impact on how it functions in the years, even decades, to come. A healthy diet has the potential to alter our brain health and mental function, thereby delaying or protecting against age-related cognitive decline. Nutrition gives the brain the tools and building blocks it needs to perform vital actions like thinking, making memories, and repairing cell damage, but the brain also needs energy to do its work. Making good choices can definitely set you up for success with your cognitive tasks, and a relative abundance of specific nutrients can affect cognitive processes. In order to be sure your brain has all the nutrients it needs to work properly, eat a wide variety of whole foods, including good sources of protein, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and other sources of healthy fats. A healthy diet that is low in fat and high in essential nutrients reduces the risk of memory loss, helps prevent strokes and boosts alertness.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
The healthy fats, omega-3s and omega-6s, found in salmon, walnuts and kiwi fruit, provide many benefits, including improving learning and memory and helping to fight against such cognitive disorders such as dementia, and are excellent, as well as necessary, for brain health. Omega fatty acids are essential building blocks for the cell membrane of brain cells, and seem to reduce inflammation in the brain, as well as warding off the cognitive decline that often comes with age. In contrast to the healthy effects of diets that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, diets high in trans fats and saturated fats adversely affect cognition.
Serious nutrient deficiencies can definitely impair your cognitive abilities. The B vitamins, particularly B12, B6, and Folate (B9), are critical for the cellular energy metabolism in the brain. B12 is required for a cell process called methylation, a basic chemical process that all cells, including brain cells, require to thrive. B12 also protects against age-related atrophy of brain cells and against damage to the brain’s white matter, which allows brain cells to communicate with each other. Without enough B12 in the brain, memory impairment sets in and gradually gets worse, leading to dementia. Keeping healthy B12 levels now may help prevent the cognitive decline that comes with age. In addition, B6 and folate (B9) are also essential for brain function. Vitamin B6 is found in the highest quantities in potatoes, bananas, chick peas, and oatmeal. Folate is found in leafy greens, citrus fruits, peas and beans. Folate supplementation, by itself or with other B vitamins, has been shown to be helpful in preventing cognitive decline and dementia during aging. Folate deficiency can lead to neurological disorders such as depression and cognitive impairment
Phytochemicals are chemicals derived from plant sources that may help your memory. There are a number of types of phytochemicals, but a key group, that often act as antioxidants, is the flavonoids, found in plant-derived food like blueberries, apples, citrus fruits, and black and green tea. These compounds provide a multitude of health benefits to the body and brain, and play important roles in repairing damage in the brain by increasing levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce damage to cells in the brain. They also seem to take part in cell functions that help the brain form memories in people of all ages. Flavonoids boost the brain’s ability to form new neurons, prevent brain cells from dying, and improve “synaptic plasticity”, the ability of neurons to form and reform connections with each another. There is also some evidence that flavonoids can delay not only cognitive decline, but also brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage. Antioxidants and essential fatty acids help to protect your brain cells from everyday damage and age-related decline. Some studies have found that extracts from blueberries, strawberries, spinach, and blackberries have a strong antioxidant capacity and may reverse the normal cognitive changes and memory problems that accompany the aging process.
Another type of flavonoid is a compound you may not have heard of, curcumin, which is found in a common Indian spice and offers protection to the aging brain. Curcumin, nicknamed “The Spice of Mental Life”, is from the root of the tumeric plant, and benefits the brain by providing protection against neurological disorders. As an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-amyloidal agent, curcumin can improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to supporting bone health, vitamin D serves important functions in brain health, and is thought to protect the brain against cognitive deficits that come with age. Vitamin D also influences certain proteins that help in neuron growth and development, and is involved in many other important aspects of brain function, like synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory.
The best way to preserve our mental health in the future is to nourish our brains in the present, and how we eat now can dramatically affect our brains. More and more evidence shows that people who maintain good nutrition throughout life have less risk for cognitive decline and other brain diseases as they age. It’s never too late to reverse some of the effects of poor nutrition, and the choices you make today will influence your body and brain in years to come. This shows that changes in diet can enhance cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the effects of aging. At Avanti Senior Living, the Avanti Green Kitchen offers meals with no grease or oil and no fried food. It is a unique dining experience with a myriad of choices and delicious, healthy meals prepared by highly trained chefs. Meals include the freshest ingredients, no pre-made foods, taking into account the requests of the community. Each meal is prepared safely, perfectly, and within minutes. The health of Avanti’s residents is top priority, and it begins in the kitchen.