NEW JERSEY, March 27, 2017 – The link between diet and heart health is well known. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests what we eat can also have a direct influence on that most complex and delicate organ in the human body – the brain.
The field of research has garnered such weight that it even has a name: neuro-nutrition.
As the centre of the nervous system, the brain houses structures that control almost every bodily function. And, incredibly, there is now proof that consuming certain foods can change our moods and help us think faster, and that a healthy diet in mid-life can also slash the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
What’s more, the sooner we start ‘eating smart’, the better.
New findings show that more nutrients than previously thought can cross the protective blood- brain barrier. Many more increase blood flow to the brain, speeding delivery of the fuel it needs for peak performance.
Most interestingly, despite chemists’ shelves heaving with expensive supplements that claim to be able to work wonders on mental agility, many studies suggest that quite ordinary foods have just as good if not more of an effect.
Just as the right diet plays a vital part in protecting the brain from decline, the wrong one can damage it. As many as 67 studies show that obesity blunts thinking in the young, while diabetes, often linked to overeating, doubles the risk of dementia, a devastating disease that already affects 850,000 Britons, with that number set to soar to a million in the next six years.
It is a message that former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips is keen to get across. She knows only too well the agony of dementia, having witnessed her ‘independent, intelligent’ father succumb to the disease. ‘It was so difficult to see his
mind slowly slipping away,’ said the 72-year-old, who is an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society.
Phillips believes in ‘eating sensibly and cutting out bread, pasta, crisps, cakes, sweets and biscuits’.
She added: ‘I want an active brain, one that’s working as strongly as my heart.’
Of course, diet is not the only factor because genetics, exercise, stress and other lifestyle factors also play a part.
But building modest amounts of the following six foods – as recommended by leading medical experts – into your diet really can help you eat your way to a sharper memory, and lower the risk of cognitive decline in later years. Here we show you how…
1. OLIVE OIL: FOR PROBLEM-SOLVING
WHAT: Olive oil is typically about ten to 15 per cent saturated fat and has a similar amount of polyunsaturated fat. However, it is more than two-thirds monounsaturated fatty acids, associated with a healthier heart and a sharper brain that is quick to sort through tricky problems.
THE PROOF: Researchers followed almost 450 men and women, average age 67, who ate a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean-style diet, including nuts and a litre of extra virgin olive oil a week, for four years. At the beginning and end of the trial period, participants were tested for signs of cognitive decline – assessed for short-term or working memory, attention span, and problem-solving (governed by the frontal cortex of the brain, brown in our diagram). The study, published in May, found that people on the low-fat control diet had a significant drop in brain function scores, while those on the Mediterranean diet experienced improved scores. Olive oil also contains compounds called polyphenols, which some studies indicate might protect against internal processes that lead to dementia.
DAILY DOSE: Three tablespoons a day of extra-virgin olive oil. Cooking with olive oil below the smoke point – 215C – does not destroy its health benefits, according to experts.
2. CITRUS FRUIT: FOR PERCEPTIVE ABILITY
WHAT: Take your pick from oranges, grapefruit and easy-peelers because citrus fruits are our richest source of brain-protective flavanones. These chemicals have been shown to help protect the areas of the brain involved in perception and recognition (the parietal lobe, shown in pink on our diagram) and protect against dementia.
THE PROOF: Citrus has the highest antioxidant activity of any fruit. ‘Antioxidants work by limiting oxidative damage, which is core to the development of dementia,’ says Matthew Prima, research fellow at the Centre for Global Mental Health, King’s College, London. Citrus may also fend off brain injury: a study by the University of East Anglia in Norwich showed that women who tucked into oranges or grapefruit reduced their risk of stroke by 19 per cent.
DAILY DOSE: Add an extra serving of citrus to your five a day – that’s one orange, half a grapefruit, or two small clementines or satsumas. But don’t think that you can get away with a slug of fruit juice as that can often be high in sugar, increasing diabetes risk. ‘Our advice would be to eat more citrus fruit as opposed to products made from it,’ says Aedin Cassidy, Professor of Nutrition at the University of East Anglia.
3. NUTS: FOR FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION
THE PROOF: The study showing that olive oil as part of a Mediterranean diet improved mental performance found an even greater effect in those who ate a portion of nuts every day. One large study suggested the compounds in nuts stimulate production of a brain-protective protein. And there may be another benefit: researchers found 30g of nuts a day cut the risk of stroke by almost half. A 30-year study of more than 15,000 women found that those who ate nuts five times a week had better recall and more focus (governed by the temporal lobe, blue in our diagram) than those who avoided them.
DAILY DOSE: Try a mix of 15g walnuts and 7.5g each of almonds and hazelnuts, which have been used in trials to improve cognition and brain health. For those worried about calories, studies have shown those who eat nuts on a daily basis are a lower weight than those who do not. However, don’t think of them as a panacea. Nutrition researcher Dr Emilio Ros of the Hospital Clinico in Barcelona says: ‘Consider making nuts part of a diet that limits saturated fats.’
4. FISH: FOR A HIGHER IQ
WHAT: Salmon isn’t the only healthy fish. All seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and Vitamin D, all compounds linked to brain health. And now, research has shown those who eat any fish regularly actually have bigger brains.
THE PROOF: This study found that fish-lovers had a memory centre, found in the temporal lobe (blue in our diagram) in the middle of the brain, that was 14 per cent larger than in those who rarely ate fish. There was no link with oily fish. Pregnant and nursing mothers who get sufficient omega-3 have children with higher IQs and, at the other end of the age range, high levels in the diet are thought to almost halve the risk of dementia. Fish is the food richest in Vitamin D, says Professor Tom Sanders, head of nutritional sciences at King’s College, London. Low levels are linked to an increased risk of dementia.
DAILY DOSE: ‘Eating at least one portion of fish a week can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by ten years,’ claims Professor John Stein, adviser to the Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour. Most of us are able to eat up to four portions a week, one of which should be oily, except for women of childbearing age, who are advised to stick to two because fish can contain pollutants.
5. CHOCOLATE: FOR ACCURATE THINKING
WHAT: Good news! A food most of us crave is good for our brains – the compounds responsible, catechins, are found in cocoa solids. The only downside is that this means the expensive, dark type rather than cheap milk chocolate will have a beneficial effect.
THE PROOF: Chocolate can revive a failing brain, according to one recent study, which found that two cups of hot chocolate a day improved thinking skills in people with impaired blood flow by more than eight per cent (the cerebellum, purple in our diagram, governs some of these functions). It may even help recovery from stroke, according to animal studies.
Catechins help to lower blood pressure and may shield nerve cells from damage, too. Chocolate also contains caffeine, which keeps us alert, plus chemicals that boost our mood.
DAILY DOSE: The highest nutritional value is in unrefined chocolate, ‘Ideally, your chocolate or cocoa should be consumed raw,’ says Beatrice Golomb, Associate Professor at the University of California.
The good news is that the ‘chocolate-is-good-for-us’ message has been around for a while now, leading to supermarket shelves heaving with brands that specialise in high-quality chocolate with 70 per cent plus cocoa solids.
6. BERRIES: FOR MEMORY AND VISION
WHAT: Blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and black and red grapes contain compounds called anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid, which have an effect on the blood vessels.
THE PROOF: Research shows that consuming blueberries can immediately improve learning by increasing blood flow to the part of the brain that deals with concentration, memory and attention to detail. When Professor Jeremy Spencer, of Reading University, gave teenagers a blueberry smoothie to drink, they showed an 11 per cent improvement in cognitive test scores. Those given a banana smoothie showed no improvement. ‘For maximum effect, eat berries four hours before doing a complex task,’ says Prof Spencer. Other research suggests they may help vision (controlled by the occipital lobe, green in our diagram).
DAILY DOSE: Eat a serving of berries – that’s two handfuls of blueberries, raspberries or blackcurrants, one handful of blackberries or grapes, seven strawberries or 14 cherries – most days. Heat is known to reduce amounts of beneficial compounds in fruit and vegetables, so most experts agree you should avoid cooking them. Remember, fruit is naturally high in sugar so eating more than the recommended dose could have a detrimental effect.
WINE… COFFEE… STEAK… THE TASTY SURPRISES IN A NEURO-NUTRITIOUS DIET
A Mediterranean-style diet – based largely on vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, cereal grains, olive oil and fish – is consistently shown in studies to protect both the brain and heart. So what else is good to eat, alongside the six foods? You might be surprised by just what’s recommended…
Red wine – and champagne
Made from the flavonoid-rich black grape, red wine is believed to stave off age-related memory loss when drunk in moderation (over-indulging does the opposite).
A recent review of more than 2,000 middle-aged people found that those who drank one-and-a-half glasses of red wine stayed sharpest.
Or, if you prefer something more exotic, sip champagne.
Diet and brain function expert Professor Jeremy Spencer, of Reading University, advocates two to three glasses a week to fight cognitive decline.
A variety of veg
Although fruit is the richest source of flavonoids, vegetables contain them too. The best sources are onions, broccoli, kale, celery, leeks, peppers and tomatoes plus purple vegetables, such as aubergines, that are rich in potent anthocyanins. Add avocados, full of the healthy fats also found in olive oil.
Meat from grazing cattle and sheep contains less saturated fat and more omega-3s than animals raised on commercial feed. Experts say that a portion of red meat, which can include steak, once a week is beneficial. More than this, though, should be avoided as the high iron content is linked to a risk of bowel cancer.
Coffee and tea
Coffee not only makes us more alert, it is also linked to a reduced risk of depression, stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, says Prof Spencer. Tea, especially green tea, contains flavonoids that improve attention and short-term memory and may also help ward off dementia.
These provide a steady supply of glucose to the brain without the sugar rush and crashing lows that high GI (glycaemic index) foods like refined carbs can cause. Wholegrains also contain brain-friendly nutrients such as omega-3s and polyphenols, says dietician Sarah Baker, senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, who runs website thedietroom.com.
Written by: Linda Grey
Post seen on Daily Mail Online
About Alaris Health
Alaris statewide network of independently owned and operated Member Health Centers offers a wide variety of services across a continuum of care, ranging from short-term post-hospital rehabilitation and long-term care specialized care.
Each Member Health Center is licensed to use the Alaris Health name and receive non-health related services. All health care related services are provided solely by each independently owned and operated Member Health Center.
For more information, please visit www.alarishealth.com or call (855)7-ALARIS for more information.