5 Brain-Boosting Foods That Can Fight Dementia
January 10, 2023
We all know that eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the key components of a healthy lifestyle. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein provides numerous benefits and can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and even certain cancers.
But did you know that eating certain foods can have a positive impact on brain aging – and can even help prevent dementia? Recent studies suggest that consuming these foods can slow down the brain aging process.
While there’s no way to reverse dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you may be able to delay or even prevent the onset of symptoms by eating a diet rich in these foods and engaging in other mentally stimulating activities, says director of University Hospitals Neurological Institute’s Brain Health & Memory Center Charles Duffy, MD, PhD.
MIND Diet for Healthy Brain Aging
Experts have developed a diet that brings many of these brain-healthy foods together. The MIND diet – which stands for Mediterranean/DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay – combines elements of the popular Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
This diet incorporates fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, eggs, whole grains and healthy fats, such as olive oil, all of which have been shown to decrease inflammation, prevent cell damage, and slow down the effects of brain aging. Read on for some of the best foods you can eat to keep your brain healthy as you age.
Best Foods for Preventing Dementia
1. Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
Studies have found that foods with higher levels of carotenoids – the pigments that give fruits and veggies their orange and red color – are associated with better brain health and a lower risk of dementia. Food that are rich in carotenoids include carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, papaya, apricots, and leafy greens such as spinach and kale.
Berries are a great source of antioxidants and flavonoids, both of which are known to prevent cell damage and can stop the progression of brain damage from free radicals. Foods such as blueberries, blackberries and raspberries all pack this nutritional punch – plus they have the added benefit of being naturally lower in sugar than many other fruits.
Seafood, in particular fatty fish such as tuna and salmon, is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with good brain health and a reduced risk of cognitive decline. The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is especially helpful in this regard, but our bodies cannot produce it on their own so we have to rely on diet. Experts say two to three servings of fish a week is enough to provide your brain with all the benefits of this nutrient.
4. Nuts, Seeds and Legumes
Nuts, seeds and legumes contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other nutrients such as vitamin E, B vitamins, choline, magnesium and zinc. All of these are shown to promote brain health and reduce age-related cognitive decline. Foods such as walnuts, almonds, peanuts, soybeans, lentils, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are all good choices to add to your diet if you’re looking to score these benefits.
5. Whole Grains
Whole grains are rich in fiber, B vitamins and other nutrients and can reduce inflammation in the brain, supporting memory and warding off dementia. Whole grains such as quinoa, barley, brown rice and oats are great choices and can be healthier alternatives to more processed grains, such as white flour.
Foods to Avoid
Foods that are known to contribute to inflammation should be limited if you are seeking to prevent cognitive decline and dementia. Some of the main culprits include:
- Red meat
- Desserts, sweets and sugary beverages
- Refined grains
- Processed, fried and fast foods
These foods do not have to be completely eliminated from your diet in order to maintain brain health; rather, they should be consumed in limited quantities and replaced or combined with healthier alternatives when possible.
Combine Diet with Other Brain-Healthy Habits
Dr. Duffy says eating brain-boosting foods should be combined with daily moderate exercise, mental stimulation (such as reading and conversation), and working with your providers to monitor you closely for signs of hypertension, diabetes and mood and sleep disorders.
“I’d encourage people to do everything they can to stay mentally alert and intact so that you can take full advantage of what we all hope will be a variety of more effective treatments for late-life cognitive decline,” says Dr. Duffy.
The specialized brain health and memory team at University Hospitals Neurology Institute offers comprehensive treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.