By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Did you know that as much as 65 percent of the effects of aging, including declining brain function, are influenced by lifestyle factors – things like lack of exercise, stress, and poor food choices?
In my new book, The Healing Kitchen, I focus on the food and health angle, and dedicate an entire chapter to memory loss and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. I present the best and most damaging of foods. It’s valuable information, considering that cognition disorders affect 13 percent of Americans 65 and older, a number sure to soar unless people start eating smarter.
Every time we sit down to eat, with each bite, we are either protecting brain function or compromising it. Tragically, the majority of Americans aren’t eating nearly enough of the protective foods.
Alzheimer’s and other memory-related diseases are commonly linked to inflammation and insufficient blood flow that lead to a lack of oxygen and nutrients for vital brain cells.
You’ve heard the saying a thousand times, “you are what you eat.” And it’s true; nutrition is always king. In the case of Alzheimer’s prevention, you must follow the king – eat a healthy diet – but also engage in regular physical activity and take steps to reduce your stress.
Those are the key ingredients for better brain health.
Here are a dozen basic food-and-memory facts you should know:
1. The healthiest diets on the planet, associated with the lowest incidence of chronic illnesses, are the traditional Mediterranean and Asian diets. Because I like them both so much, I have combined their best features into what I call the Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean Diet or (PAMM Diet).
2. Research says unequivocally that the more vegetables you eat, the less susceptible you will be to age related memory problems. The types of vegetables that offer the most protection are leafy greens like spinach, and the cruciferous varieties such as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.
3. Avoid or significantly reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates. We overconsume these problematic foods. They increase blood sugar and insulin levels, triggering inflammation and eventually diabetes, and are linked to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Cutting down also keeps your weight down. People with weight problems have a higher risk of developing dementia.
4. Be sure to include a variety of fresh fruit in your diet, especially antioxidant rich berries. Blueberries, in particular, are high in specific antioxidants called anthocyanins that can actually enhance your brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. Always try to eat your berries organic.
5. Recent research suggests that heart healthy HDL cholesterol not only protects against heart disease and stroke, but can provide protection against dementia as well. The best way to raise your HDL level is to make vegetables and fruits the largest part of your diet.
6. Make sure you get enough B vitamins in your diet, especially folate (folic acid). Inadequate folate can triple your risk of dementia later in life. Foods rich in folate include leafy green vegetables such as turnip greens and spinach, and legumes like chickpeas and kidney beans.
7. The combination of antioxidant-rich spinach and free-range, organic eggs packs quite a memory-boosting punch. The healthy fat in egg yolk allows beneficial nutrients in the spinach to be fully absorbed by the body.
8. Go for garlic. In addition to its pungent aroma, garlic packs antioxidants with the power to reduce inflammation involved in cognitive issues.
9. Eat healthy, anti-inflammatory fats by consuming plenty of nuts, fish such as wild-caught salmon and sardines, and avocados on a daily basis. They protect and fortify brain function. And don’t forget the extra virgin olive oil!
10. A glass of red wine up to six times a week has been found to benefit brain function. It slows down mental decline, according to research. Drinking more doesn’t help.
11. The curry spice turmeric and its pigment extract curcumin rank among the most potent food- derived anti-inflammatory agents. In a study, curcumin appeared to have a destructive effect on plaque in the memory circuits of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
12. Introduce flavorful cinnamon into your diet by sprinkling onto smoothies, whole grain cereal, and fruit. Cinnamon provides a strong antioxidant effect and helps stabilize blood sugar.
For more information, practical tips, and condition-specific recipes, I invite you to visit The Healing Kitchen.
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