Senior Nutrition: The Real Brain Foods

We've heard about eating right for our heart, but what about eating right for our brain? Healthy eating and a balanced diet has been shown to have many benefits, such as lowering risk for heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, but there is also increasing evidence that certain foods and proper senior nutrition can help lower the risk for developing Alzheimer's and dementia.

Alzheimer's disease and dementia are some of the most notable conditions that we wish to prevent, or to lower our risk as we age, and as there is increasing evidence that certain foods can actually lower our risk for these conditions. Take a look at the list of foods below that have been shown to increase brain function and lower the risk of Alzheimer's, and start incorporating these brain foods into your regular diet.

1. Oils

Oils are a great source of Vitamin E and healthy fats, which are essential to the proper functioning of your brain. A potent antioxidant, vitamin E may help protect neurons or nerve cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, neurons in certain parts of the brain start to die, which jump-starts the cascade of events leading to cognitive deterioration. So beefing up your Vitamin E intake now might help stop this process later.

Coconut Oil and Olive Oil are two of the best natural oils for your body and your brain, and can be added into your diet through salad dressings, baking, and as a base for sautéing foods. Avocado Oil, Almond Oil, and Sesame Oil are also great to use and are packed with healthy Vitamin E and omega-3. However, stay away from Corn Oil and Soybean Oil, as they are rich in omega-6, which can cause inflammation in excess.

2. Fish

Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and other fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The good news is that DHA has also been shown to be beneficial to brain health because it seems to be very important to the normal functioning of brain neurons.

So adding fish to your diet is a great way to take care of your brain and your heart, and might also help you eat less red meat in your diet, as it is packed with saturated fats which can aid in clogging arteries. However, try to stay away from farm-raised salmon, shark, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, American Eel, Chilean Sea Bass, and imported shrimp due to high mercury content, antibiotics, and unsustainable fishing practices.

3. Dark green, leafy vegetables

Kale, collard greens, spinach, and broccoli are good sources of vitamin E and folate. For example, one cup of raw spinach has 15% of your daily intake of vitamin E, and 1/2 a cup of cooked spinach has 25% of your daily intake.

Exactly how folate may protect the brain is unclear, but it may be by lowering levels of an amino acid known as homocysteine in the blood. High levels of homocysteine may trigger the death of nerve cells in the brain, but folic acid helps break down homocysteine levels. High homocysteine levels have also been linked to an increased risk for heart disease.

4. Avocado

Good news for all the avocado lovers out there: this creamy treat is also a rich source of antioxidants and vitamin E. Foods rich in vitamin E are associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Avocados are also packed with Vitamin C, which boosts the immune system and overall health, and healthy fats.

Avocados can be a great addition to any meal, and can be added to smoothies, used on top of salads or omelettes, or used as a spread on whole grain toasts for a morning treat.

5. Seeds

Seeds, including sunflower seeds, are also good sources of vitamin E. One ounce of dry-roasted sunflower seeds contains 30% of your recommended daily intake. Chia seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds are all great sources of vitamin E, and can be sprinkled on top of your salad, eaten as a snack, or added to baked goods to give your brain a boost.

6. Almonds and almond butter

Although both are high in fat, almonds and almond butter are a source of healthy fats, necessary for a healthy brain and heart, and they are also packed with vitamin E. There has been some very good research that diets that are high in healthy fats, low in saturated fat and trans fats, and rich in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and nuts are good for the brain and the heart.

Both nuts and nut butters may help keep the heart and brain healthy and functioning properly. Other good choices are cashews, hazelnuts, and walnuts.

7. Red Wine 

Research shows that drinking in moderation is heart healthy, and can be good for your brain too, potentially lowering the risk for Alzheimer's. Moderation is considered one daily drink for women, and two for men.

Alcohol relaxes the blood vessels and reduces the blood's ability to clot, making it a useful preventative method for heart disease. Less is known about how red wine and alcohol work to lower the risk of Alzheimer's, as it is difficult to pinpoint alcohol as the contributing factor, rather than other healthy lifestyle choices.

8. Berries

The latest research presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston found that blueberries, strawberries, and acai berries may help slow down age-related cognitive decline by preserving the brain’s mechanism to get rid of toxic proteins, which wanes with age.

Berries can be added to smoothies and salads, eaten alone as a snack, and also make a great dessert mixed with nuts and coconut flakes.

9. Whole Grains

Fiber-rich whole grains are important to brain health, and can include whole wheat, whole oatmeal, bulgar, brown rice, buckwheat, whole grain barley, whole rye, and quinoa. Whole grains are an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which is also loaded with fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and wine. Research out of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City shows that a Mediterranean diet may be linked to lower risk of mild cognitive impairment that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

This type of diet may reduce inflammation, oxidative stress, and other vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure—all of which may have a role in increasing risk for brain and heart diseases.

10. Exercise

No, you can't eat exercise. But there is substantial evidence that regular exercise is crucial to staving off many age-related conditions, including Alzheimer's. Setting up an exercise regimen, and eating a diet rich in healthy oils, fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and nuts will go a long way in lowering your risk for developing Alzheimer's or dementia, and will help you feel energized, fit and fulfilled.

American In-Home Care always refers qualified, credentialed, screened, care providers that can assist with a wide variety of services in-home or in facilities, including diet monitoring, meal preparation, and grocery shopping. Contact us at 1-844-505-0004 to schedule your free consultation to assess your in-home care needs, and determine which care options are right for you.