Food and the aging brain
Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center will provide a post on nutrition topics. Have questions or ideas for future topics? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. This week, Deb Schulze (pictured) RD, LDN, weighs in on diet and fitness for seniors.
Right now, there are about 77 million Baby Boomers in the U.S., which accounts for approximately 29 percent of our population. Sociologists define Baby Boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964. Regardless, one thing for sure is that none of us is getting any younger. Correcting dietary deficiencies may pay rewards later in life and now is the time to get started.
According to scientists, certain nutrients and chemical compounds are essential to human brain function. Recent and promising research presented at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease suggests lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise and alcohol consumption can help prevent or slow the mental decline associated with aging.
Go for the Deep Colors
“Vitamins and minerals in plant foods provide protective antioxidants” says James Joseph, who heads the Neuroscience Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. “But fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains contain thousands of other types of compounds that contribute significantly to the overall dietary intake of antioxidants.” However, not all fruits and vegetables are created equal. To help pick the best with respect to antioxidant activity, Guohua Cao and Richard Cutler developed a procedure called the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay. ORAC can serve as a guide for which foods to include in your diet. The ORAC rankings show blueberries with the highest rating followed by black plums, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, sweet cherries, avocado, navel oranges, and red grapes to name a few.
ORAC scores are showing up in charts and on some food and beverage packages and may be helpful in choosing foods to include in your diet. If you are unsure and do not have a ORAC score, “let color be your guide” since many foods that have a good deal of color are also very high in antioxidant activity.
Eat the rainbow, but don’t forget about the health benefits of less colorful white onions and garlic. Aim for 5 to 9 servings daily of fruits and vegetables, as well as high fiber whole grains.
Hold the Salt
A recent study showed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan may also benefit your brain. The DASH diet is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, while limiting meat, saturated fat, sweets, and salt. The study suggested that including whole grains, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods and nuts may also provide benefits for cognition in late life.
Add Some Fish
Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported that increasing fish intake rather than taking fish-oil pills, was associated with a 20 percent decline in the risk of dementia. In the study, data was collected from almost 15,000 people age 65 or older in seven nations and noted that as fish consumption went up, dementia went down. Other studies have found mixed results.
Most government health agencies suggest eating at least two servings per week of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna or mackerel; canned varieties are good choices.
Move your body
Research has proven that activity such as walking for 20 to 30 minutes a day may help protect your aging brain. Older adults engaging in intermittent activity such as walking may have lower rates of cognitive decline compared to sedentary seniors.
Feed Your Brain
Remember, the benefits of good nutrition throughout the life cycle will reap rewards as we pass through each phase of our lives. As we age, it is important to continue a healthy lifestyle to support our bodies and minds. This includes a diet rich in antioxidants, daily physical exercise and mental activities as well.