Mounting research reveals that what you eat can help ward off dementia, delay declines in cognition and improve overall brain health. A plant-forward diet that is rich in antioxidant-packed fruits and veggies, whole grains and healthy fats is the basis for the brain-boosting MIND diet, which has been shown in clinical studies to reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease and delay age-related declines in memory and cognition.
Here are six smart strategies to help keep your brain sharp as you age:
1. Pack in Vibrant Produce
Colorful fruits and veggies are rich in nutrients like folate, flavonoids, carotenoids and antioxidants that help keep your brain and blood vessels healthy. In fact, one study of nearly 4,000 seniors in Chicago reported that those who ate 2.8 servings of vegetables daily decreased the rate of cognitive decline by approximately 40 percent compared with consuming merely 0.9 of a serving daily.
In addition, data from more than 900 seniors found that those whose diets most closely met the recommendations of the MIND diet reduced their risk for developing dementia by up to 53 percent during the four and one-half year study. The MIND diet recommends at least one serving per day of dark, leafy greens; one serving of another type of veggie; and berries at least twice a week.
2. Sip Red Wine
Here’s something worth toasting to: Enjoying a glass of wine daily can actually reduce your risk for dementia. According to researchers, red wine is rich in healthy plant nutrients called polyphenols that may help protect the brain. And, for non-drinkers, there’s also good news: Evidence also shows that 100% grape juice made with Concord grapes provides similar polyphenols as red wine, and studies with the juice reveal that it can benefit cognitive function and memory among both older and middle-aged adults. In addition, you’re getting servings of much-needed purple-powered produce at the same time.
3. Choose Healthier Fats
What’s more, participants’ whose diets were highest in omega-3 fatty acids from fish and unsaturated from vegetable oils reduced their risk for dementia. The MIND diet recommends at least one serving a week of fish per week – but more may be even better. Use plant-based oils low in saturated fat, like canola, olive and sunflower, and limit full-fat dairy and fatty cuts of red meat.
4. Up Your Choline
Choline is an essential nutrient that acts like a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for memory. The nutrient forms cholinergic neurons that make up a significant part of your brain and nervous system.
Research shows that those with higher intakes of choline have improved memory and cognition. Unfortunately, national nutrition surveillance data reveal that some 90 percent of Americans aren’t getting the recommended RDI of 550 milligrams per day. To boost choline in your diet, include foods abundant in choline such as fatty fish, whole eggs (the choline is in the yolk), beef, poultry, mushrooms, milk and yogurt.
5. Eat the Right Carbs
Both the Mediterranean and MIND diets encourage whole grains, fruits and non-starchy vegetables as your primary sources of carbohydrates. Foods rich in added sugars like baked goods and other sweets should be eaten only on occasion. Diets rich in added sugars up your risk for weight gain and type 2 diabetes, which, studies show, may increase the risk for developing dementia later in life. Your best bet: Make at least half of your grain servings whole grains, and limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of your total calories or about 200 calories a day for women, 250 for men.
6. Watch Your Waistline
Several studies show a correlation between overweight, and especially excess belly fat, and memory loss. One study found that a high waist-to-hip ratio in midlife doubled the risk for dementia in old age. In another study, participants with the most belly fat were 3.6 times more likely than those without excess belly fat to develop memory loss and dementia later in life. According to health organizations, a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men may impact the health of your brain. Here are several research-backed strategies to reduce belly fat.