Dementia is defined by World Health Organization as “deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from normal ageing, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. People with dementia are exposed to higher risks of a shortened lifespan, such as malnutrition, falls, infections, or a compromised immune system. And dementia, on its own, can also lead to death.
As prevalent as brain function-loss is in the population, there have not been many studies done about possible connections between diet and the preservation of brain function. However, two scientifically-acknowledged diets have been shown to have positive associations with brain function: the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) Diet. Historically, residents in Mediterranean regions have demonstrated a significantly lower rate of cardiovascular disease, and a higher rate of longevity. Their diet focuses on a large intake of whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil, along with a moderate intake of poultry and fish, and a low intake of red meat and sweets. The DASH Diet was derived from a long-term study focused on better control of blood pressure. It utilized whole grains, vegetables, and fruit intake, and notably recommends white meats instead of red meats, along with an intake of some dairy and nuts.
In 2016, a research group examined the relationship between the components of these two diets and brain function, and the results were impressively positive. Researchers surveyed the diet of nearly 1,000 senior-aged participants in the Chicago area. Based on the frequency of the consumption of diet components from both the Mediterranean and DASH Diets, a “diet score” was assigned. For example, a high intake of green vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grain products, and poultry led to a higher score, while a lower intake of red meat, dairy products, and fried foods also gave a higher score. The cognitive ability of all participants was then tested on a yearly basis, and the results showed a positive association between diet scores and cognitive abilities. Researchers were able to draw the conclusion that people with the highest diet scores had an equivalent 7.5 years younger in brain age than those with lowest diet scores.
Based on this long-term study, we now know that an increase in some foods, along with a decrease in others, are associated with preserving brain function. These findings is now known as MIND diet (Mediterranean-Dash Intervention of Neurodegenerative Delay) Here are the details.
Say YES to all kinds of vegetables, green vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, poultry, fish, beans, and wine.
It is almost common knowledge that an increase in vegetables benefits our health, in general. However, it has since been confirmed that on top of all the known benefits, such as weight loss, GI health, blood sugar stabilization, a lowering of cholesterol, cancer-fighting properties, and a lowering of blood pressure (phew), vegetables actually makes us smarter! Researchers believe that it’s the antioxidants found in them that prevents the deterioration of brain cells. Focus on the rainbow colors of vegetables: whether the vegetables are dark green or bright orange or luscious purple, the pigments found in fruits and vegetables are the antioxidants that give us an array of benefits. Berries, among the fruits and vegetables, contain the highest content of antioxidants.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also known to fight inflammation in our bodies. They provide protective properties against harmful chemicals called radical oxygen species (ROS), and further help to prevent a decline in brain function. Some foods that are high in Omega-3 include deep-sea fish, nuts, and olive oil.
Here are some tips to implement these recommendations in daily life:
--Eat a substantial serving of leafy green vegetables (2 fist-sized salads, 1 fist-size cooked vegetable) at least once a day
--Go for colorful vegetables (bell peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, pumpkins, etc)
--Swap at least half of the grains to whole-grain products (whole grain rice, pasta, or bread)
--Consume any berries twice a week; use them in smoothies, toppings, baking
--Snack on nuts; have them readily available at home, at work, with you during the day
--Cook with olive oil
Say NO to butter/margarine, red meat, fried food, cheese, and sugary foods.
The saturated fat and trans-fat found in butter, red meat, and other baking goods have long been associated with health risks, including an increase in cholesterol and blood pressure. This study further confirmed its detrimental properties, even in our brains!
Here are some tips to reduce the intake of these items:
--Eat red meat (beef, pork, lamb) no more than two times a week
--Opt for grilled, rather than fried, meats
--Reduce the intake of sweets (soft drinks, caramel macchiatos, ice cream, candies, pastries, etc)
By Catherine Ko, MS, RD, CDE / Hazel Ng, RD CDE