As we age, brain function seems more important than ever. Do you have a family history of dementia? Do you worry that your mental function may decline as you get older? While we can’t change our family history, it might surprise you to know that there are factors in our life that we can change to keep our brain as healthy as we can, for as long as we can.
One way to keep our brain healthy is to exercise our minds and our bodies. Board games, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, reading, and learning new skills or hobbies are all help to keep our minds sharp. Exercising our bodies increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain and encourages new cells to form. People who exercise at least two times each week during middle age have a significantly decreased risk of dementia development than those who did no physical activity. If you already exercise, keep it up! If you don’t, get started after receiving clearance from your physician.
Vitamins help cognitive function
Another way to keep our brains healthy is by eating a healthy diet rich in a few key nutrients – vitamin B12, E, and omega-3’s, among others. These nutrients have all been proven to have a positive effect on brain health and to slow the process of mental decline.
Vitamin B12 helps to protect the sheath around the nerve fibers of the brain; low levels of vitamin B12 have been found in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Not only that, but a deficiency of vitamin B12 can actually mimic the symptoms of dementia, like forgetfulness and confusion. Because vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products (meat, milk and eggs), vegetarians may be at risk for deficiency; older adults may be at risk too, because they may lose their ability to absorb B12 as they age. Your levels of B12 can easily be checked by your doctor to find out if you are deficient.
Vitamin E is needed for normal nerve development, and it also acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are good molecules in our bodies that neutralize free radicals; free radicals can destroy healthy cells in the body, including brain cells. Vitamin E, and other antioxidants like polyphenols (found in fruits and vegetables, wine and chocolate) block the free radicals so they can’t damage our cells. Vitamin E-rich foods: oils (soybean, corn, safflower, etc), wheat germ, whole grains, nuts, olives and egg yolks.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in preserving the neurons in our brains. People with the highest levels of DHA (a type of omega-3) are 47% less likely to develop any type of dementia (and 39% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease) than those with the lowest levels. Omega-3-rich foods: flaxseed, walnuts, and oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and tuna.
How to prepare fish:
One of the common questions we are asked as Registered Dietitians is how do I prepare fish? Here ares some of our most popular salmon recipes which is particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Roasted Salmon with Salsa and Vegetables
Salmon Teriyaki with Vegetables and Brown Rice
There are many other nutrients that play important roles in protecting our brains. We encourage you to enjoy these nutrient dense brain foods and you may want to consider supplementation. If so, please feel free to ask your nutritionist about quality brands and where to find them! If you have questions about eating healthy or would like more information about nutrition counseling, please call our office at 301-474-2499 to make an appointment contact us here!
Whether you are a novice in the kitchen, or a seasoned chef, Dietitian Klara will work with you to help you reach your nutrition goals. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating, Cooking with Diabetes and Cooking with Food Sensitivities Guide.