Brain-Boosting Diet

Written by Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND

A healthy diet fends off chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Did you know that it can help you keep your mental edge as you age too? I love teaching my patients about health-boosting diets. They are delicious, nutritious, energizing and so much more.

Sharpen your brain with a Mediterranean-style diet. Older adults consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes and healthy fats – an eating pattern similar to a Mediterranean-style diet – had less damage to the small blood vessels in the brain, according to one study. A study of over 17,000 middle-aged to elderly Americans found that those whose diets most closely resembled a Mediterranean-style diet were the least likely to develop cognitive impairment.

Taking care of the heart, takes care of the brain. Studies show that the same dietary factors that take care of the heart also take care of the brain. That’s not surprising since both the heart and the brain require healthy blood vessels free of atherosclerosis.

Nourish your mind with fruits and vegetables. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables provide ample potassium, a mineral important for healthy blood pressure levels, which in turn helps protect both the brain and the heart. Sources of potassium include prunes and prune juice, beans, sweet and white potatoes, oranges, bananas, tomatoes and tomato products, spinach, apricots, cantaloupe, avocado, broccoli and many other fruits and vegetables. Additionally,

  • One study found that a high consumption of apples, pears and other white fruits and vegetables may protect against stroke.
  • In a large study, greater intakes of blueberries and strawberries were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline among older women.
  • Lutein, a relative of beta-carotene, may boost cognitive performance in older adults. Lutein is found in leafy greens, winter squash, corn, peas, egg yolks and pistachios.

Nourish your mind with fish. According to one study, older adults who ate baked or broiled fish at least once weekly had a greater volume of gray matter in the areas of the brain important to Alzheimer’s disease. Fish eaters also showed slower rates of developing dementia or mild cognitive impairment. Enjoy fish that is baked or broiled, not fried or breaded. Choose fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines, tuna and trout.

Nourish your mind with fats. Diets high in saturated fats appear to harm cognitive function and memory, whereas eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats might help. Cook with oils instead of butter and margarine. Enjoy nuts, nut butters and avocadoes.

Remember to exercise. Fitness in middle age protects against dementia even two decades later. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous or terribly time consuming to be protective of the brain. They recommend walking, bicycling, gardening, tai chi, yoga or other activities for about 30 minutes per day. For the greatest protection against something more serious than just misplacing your keys: be consistent, and combine exercise with a healthy diet, mental activity and social interaction.

Happy, healthy eating everyone!