Our brains are incredibly complex and really, simply fascinating! There are so many things left unknown about the brain. One area of focus in recent years has been nutrition and brain health.
There are ways we can plan our eating that can help lower risks for not only dementia, but also a number of other health conditions including heart diseases and diabetes.
First, lets take a look at some facts about brain health and dementia.
Brain health numbers
- 7th leading cause of death is now dementia
- 564,000 Canadians are currently living with dementia
- 937,000 Canadians will be living with dementia in 15 years
- 1.1 million Canadians are directly or in-directly affected by dementia
- 45% greater risk of developing dementia if you smoke
- 65% of people over the age of 65 diagnosed with dementia are women
Dementia is a word to describe a group of disorders that affect the brain with symptoms impacting memory, problem-solving, language, mood and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most well-known, but other conditions can also lead to dementia including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, head trauma, stroke and others.
Can I prevent dementia through diet?
Researchers think the answer is YES, at least to some degree. And luckily, many of the tips for a Brain-Healthy diet are the same as for managing or protecting against many other chronic diseases (you know, those ones that take a while to develop and are often linked to lifestyle habits).
Top 7 tips about nutrition for brain health
The great news is that eating well for brain health is not too different than eating well for overall health, as I mentioned at the beginning. These are tips that you’ll notice I talk about in many of my posts about eating for a variety of health concerns.
The general idea here is that eating in this way can help manage the inflammation in your body … and brain.
Eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables: get green and red daily for their anti-oxidants as well as other protective compounds (called phytochemicals)
Cold-water fish (aka fatty fish): 1-2 each week, including salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout
Decrease meats: limit red meat and poultry, choose lower fat options
Nuts and seeds: keep in mind portions here, but especially try to get walnuts in there daily
Go for whole grains and high-fibre: when we think grains and cereals we don’t usually think anti-oxidants but they’re in there!
Avoid highly processed foods: our Western, eat-on-the-go, pre-packaged diet is full of unhealthy fats, sugar, salt and is seriously lacking in nutrition
Preserve and protect your health: high blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes and obesity have been linked to developing Alzheimer’s
Should I take omega-3 supplements?
You might now be thinking about other ways to reduce inflammation and wondering about supplements.
Omega-3 does help to fight inflammation. Studies have shown that omega-3’s from fish and fish products have been helpful to our health. But the same was not found when people used supplements instead of eating the fish. So, taking omega-3 supplement to avoid memory loss or dementia may not work.
But I don’t like eating fish …
For people who do not eat fish, good sources of omega-3 include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, hemp seed products and walnuts. The form of omega-3 in these plant-based options cannot be used by our bodies, as is. Our bodies, being the amazing things they are, can change them to the useable forms of omega-3 though.
In order to help your body do this conversion well, try to limit or avoid trans fats and saturated fats. As well you’ll need to have bigger portions of plant-based options to get the same amount of omega-3 that you’d find in fish.
Nutrition and brain health – the bottom line
At this time, the strongest know predictor of cognitive decline and risk for dementia is age. But, it does not have to be a ‘normal’ part of aging.
Eating a healthy diet and having regular exercise are known to help reducing your risks of developing a number of age-related conditions, not just dementia.
With a few little tweaks to your habits, you can see big changes in your day-to-day and help you preserve and protect your health into your next years.
Where can I find out more?
- Your local Alzheimer’s Society: www.alzheimer.ca
- MINDfull recipes for Brain-Health cookbook by Baycrest: https://www.baycrest.org/Baycrest-Pages/About-Baycrest/Publications/Books-Multimedia/MINDfull-recipes-for-brain-health note: I’ve tried a number of recipes from this book and they are delicious!
- Canada’s Food Guide, 2019: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/
Want some help bringing it all together to make changes that work and that last? Want to embrace life’s next chapter with the confidence you’re protecting and preserving your nutritional health? Book your spot for a FREE chat to talk about what strategies might help you get your plan started!
Angela Hubbard is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) with 10 years experience working in the field of nutrition. Her work focuses on empowering people with young minds and aging bodies as they enter their retirement years and beyond. In her off time she loves swapping recipes, creating and exploring Northern BC life with her young family.