Think you don’t have to worry about memory loss until you’re well into your golden years? Think again! Studies show that the lifestyle choices you make in your 40s and 50s impact your risk for dementia later in life. A healthy lifestyle — including eating a healthy diet, exercising and not smoking — can help you stave off declines in memory and cognition later on.
Here are five
1. Pack in More Produce
Fruits and veggies are rich in brain-boosting nutrients like folate, flavonoids, carotenoids and antioxidants. In fact, one study collected dietary intake data on 3,718 Chicago seniors (age 65 and over) and reported that consumption of 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 4-and-1/2 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. Savor Seafood
Several studies show that varieties of fish and seafood rich in EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are related to improvements in brain health and reduced risk for dementia, which is why the MIND diet recommends at least one serving a week of fish — but more may be even better.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend at least two servings of fish per week (for a total of 8 to 12 ounces) to obtain enough of the long-chain omega-3s EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, national food intake data reveal that just 10 percent of Americans meet this recommendation. EPA and DHA are concentrated in the brain and are critical for the normal functioning of neurons necessary for memory and cognitive function. Another plus: Eating fish for your protein means you’ll eat less saturated fat-rich red or processed meats that are not recommended as part of a healthy-brain diet.
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
3. Count on Choline
Choline, a water-soluble nutrient in the B vitamin family, is also essential for cell signaling and nerve impulse transmission. Preliminary research suggests individuals with higher choline intakes have improved memory and cognition.
Unfortunately, according to a study using national nutrition surveillance data, nearly 90 percent of Americans aren’t getting the Food and Drug Administration’s Recommended Dietary Intake of 550 milligrams per day. To boost choline in your diet, include a variety of foods that are rich in the nutrient — like certain types of fish (salmon, cod, shrimp) and whole eggs (the choline is in the yolk); meats; and poultry. It is also found in smaller amounts in many fruits and veggies; milk and other dairy products; chocolate; and nuts.
(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
4. Choose Healthier Fats
Numerous studies show that diets rich in artery-clogging saturated fats are not only harmful to your heart — they’re bad for your brain and may increase risk for neurological declines. In fact, research from the Chicago Health and Aging Project study found that older individuals who ate the most saturated fat had more than twice the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those who ate the least saturated fats. What’s more, participants’ whose diets were highest in polyunsaturated fats from fish as well vegetable oils reduced their risk for dementia.
A brain-friendly Mediterranean-style diet limits foods rich in saturated fats like meat, cheese and butter and recommends foods high in unsaturated fat, like fatty fish, nuts and plant-based oils, including canola and olive oil. Canola oil has the least saturated fat of any culinary oil — half that of olive oil — and is high in poly- and monounsaturated fats. Opt for canola oil when you need a neutral taste and for baking, sautéing and dressings. Use extra virgin olive oil for dipping or when you want a bold flavor.
5. Choose Quality Carbohydrates
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.
The stats on memory loss and dementia are staggering: 1 in every 3 seniors dies with
dementia, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and many more people suffer with declines in cognitive function that negatively impact their ability to work, manage social relationships and maintain their independence.