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Keep your brain sharp with a healthy diet

By The Health News Team | May 16, 2023
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Once again, experts have given us an additional reason to eat a plant-forward diet. According to a recent study, a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fish and healthy fats, such as the Mediterranean diet, may help lower the risk of dementia. In fact, researchers found following a Mediterranean diet — which typically features plant-based foods and is low in meat, sugar and saturated fat — can reduce a person's chance of developing dementia by nearly 25%, even if they have a family history of the disease.

Holly Moyer, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Center for Health Management, agrees: What people eat can have a significant impact on their brain function and memory, she says.

A Mediterranean-style diet, which also traditionally includes moderate consumption of fish, seafood and dairy, has diverse micronutrient and anti-inflammatory properties that can help slow cognitive decline. Consuming more fruits and vegetables can increase antioxidant intake and decrease oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain.

A Mediterranean diet also promotes increased consumption of omega-3 monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fats are found in:

  • Salmon

  • Sardines

  • Tuna

  • Omega-3 eggs

  • Chia seeds, walnuts and flax seeds

  • Avocados

Additionally, using olive, canola or avocado cooking oils instead of other plant oils (such as peanut, safflower or soybean oil) provides health benefits, not only to the brain, but also to the cardiovascular system. If choosing canola oil, Moyer recommends checking the label to make sure it is not blended with other oils. It should also be in an opaque container, so sunlight exposure doesn’t negate its health benefits.

Foods that can increase your risk of dementia

When it comes to foods to avoid when trying to decrease your risk for dementia, studies show consuming a diet high in processed foods may contribute to chronic inflammation. It can also lead to negative health effects, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, heart disease, stroke and early death. What’s more, people who frequently eat ultra-processed foods experience a more rapid decline in cognition, which can ultimately lead to a diagnosis of dementia.

Ultra-processed foods to avoid include:

  • Prepackaged sweets and desserts

  • Processed meats

  • Fast food

  • Deep-fried food

  • Salty, packaged snacks

Processed foods also contribute to microbial dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of gut bacteria in the intestines. This can negatively affect a person’s mood, immune system and other physiological processes. 

Lifestyle choices make a difference

To further help slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia, Moyer recommends additional lifestyle changes, including:

  • Get regular physical exercise.

  • Stay socially active.

  • Maintain daily cognitive activity.

  • Abstain from smoking and alcohol.

“By including lean protein, whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, and a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet and making healthy lifestyle choices, you can help lower your risk for dementia,” says Moyer. “A Mediterranean diet is a great way to ensure you’re eating a healthy diet and may be essential for good brain function.”

Learn more about nutrition; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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