We know that our physical health can be impacted significantly by our diet. But did you know that your diet always plays a large role in your brain health? While there is no magic formula to prevent cognitive changes as we age, there are some ways we can adjust our diets to promote better brain function and slow the profession of age-related decline.
How the Brain Changes as We Age
As we get older, our brains and bodies are in a natural state of change. However, there are numerous ways that we can impact how significant those changes are. Some of the most common changes your brain may experience over time include:
- Changes to brain mass. By the age of six, our brain has undergone a significant transformation, increasing its volume to about 90% of what it will be in adulthood. The brain’s next transformation begins in our 30s and 40s, when it begins to shrink, especially in the frontal lobes, which is the area of the brain responsible for cognitive function.
- Altered synaptic connections. According to Texas A&M Health, your brain’s synapses, which make the connections between the brain and the rest of the body, can begin to weaken as we age. This may have negative effects on both overall cognitive abilities and motor function.
- Fewer neurotransmitter systems. Lowered levels of serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine in the body are caused by a reduced capacity for the brain to deliver chemical messages. This can result in an increased likelihood of depression, as well as issues with memory.
Brain Health and Diet: How are They Related?
Fortunately, cognitive decline can often be slowed proactively through regular attention to both diet and exercise. Diet changes in particular can have a dramatic effect. In fact, eating certain foods while avoiding some others has been shown to slow aging of the brain by 7.5 years.
The brain is working 24/7, and needs the right fuel to function at an optimal level. If you’ve ever noticed that your attention “perks up” after a midday snack, you’ve likely encountered this phenomenon.
Foods that Can Improve Brain Health
Recently, university researchers determined that two diets—the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet—could be merged to produce positive effects on cognitive function. They combined aspects of these diets to create the MIND diet, which emphasizes foods that improve brain health. Some of these foods include:
- Green, leafy vegetables. Vegetables of any kind promote good health, but leafy greens in particular are packed with nutrients linked to brain health. This includes vitamin E, carotenoids, folate and flavonoids. And it only takes one serving a day to start seeing benefits.
- Raw and dry-roasted nuts. Packed with fat-soluble vitamin E, almonds, walnuts, cashews and peanuts make great brain-boosting snacks. Stick to unsalted nuts to avoid the sodium, and avoid flavored mixes that may contain additives such as oils and sweeteners.
- Abundant berries. Berries are packed with vitamin C, but eating strawberries and blueberries in particular has been shown to slow the rate of cognitive decline.
- Reduce meat intake and enjoy more fish. Try reducing your red meat intake and look for alternative protein sources such as beans, lentils and tofu. Also put fish on the menu at least once a week, as one study showed that adults 65 and older who did so scored better on cognitive tasks.
- Enjoy more olive oil and less butter. Olive oil has been shown to have many benefits. It’s packed with antioxidants and includes many anti-inflammatory properties. Studies also show that diets rich in olive oil can benefit brain function.
While adjustments to diet may feel prescriptive, it can help to shift the way you are framing these changes. Instead of focusing on foods you “can’t” eat, focus on eating more of the foods above. Your brain could very well reap the benefits.
Eat Well at Harbour’s Edge
At Harbour’s Edge, a sophisticated retirement community in Delray Beach, Florida, our world-class chefs prepare five-star meals packed with flavor and nutrition. Dining choices – from table service meals to our signature smoothies – are thoughtfully prepared with fresh ingredients and packed with nutrition Here, residents enjoy all the good life has to offer, including a schedule packed with activities, a custom wellness plan, and all the amenities one could wish for. With access to on-site health services just steps away, our community promotes wellness at every level. Contact us to learn more about lifestyle options at Harbour’s Edge.