Seven food tips to look after your brain
Most of us are aware that what we eat affects our risk of heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure. But early evidence shows that our food choices may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
By Emily Jakubcik National Dietitian, Arvida
To quote Hippocrates, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
As Arvida’s National Dietitian, my work is all about helping older people be their best through healthy food choices. This includes helping residents look after their brains.
You may have heard of the wonderful Mediterranean style diet, also known as the ‘heart-healthy’ eating plan, for its role in preventing heart disease and stroke. However, you may not know that diet has also been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline/impairment and dementia in those with mild and normal cognition.
Plant-based foods - such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, and seeds - are the foundation of this eating style. Olive oil is the main source of added fat; fish, seafood, dairy and poultry are included in moderation. Red meat and sweets are eaten only occasionally.
Follow these simple tips each day for a Mediterranean style diet:
- Snack on nuts and fruit between meals, for example: apple slices with peanut butter, a bowl of fresh fruit salad with breakfast or for dessert, a handful of walnuts, plain roasted almonds.
- Use olive oil instead of butter when preparing food.
- Aim for half a plate of colourful vegetables at lunchtime and dinner. As well as being a main component of the Mediterranean diet, colourful vegetables are full of flavonoids – phytochemicals that have powerful antioxidant properties. Early research suggests these phytochemicals may reduce oxidate stress in the brain, which is linked to cognitive decline2
- Eat fish at least twice a week. Especially oily fish such as salmon or sardines which are rich in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- Try use legumes instead of meat. Aim for replacing meat with legumes two or three main meals each week (more if you can!). I often recommend beginning with a nice easy option such as baked beans on toast or a chickpea curry.
- Use wholegrain grains, breads and cereals. Aim to begin your day with porridge or muesli, and then opt for the wholemeal varieties of common foods you eat at other times of the day. For example, use wholemeal flour in baking and choose brown rice or brown bread. You can also replace the grains in your meals with other high fibre choices, such as quinoa, bulgar, barley, bran or couscous.
- Alcohol in moderation. To ensure benefits without harm, the recommendation is no more than two standard drinks a day (around 200mls of wine).
References:‘how good fats do you good’.