Can what you eat prevent age related disease?
You may have previously considered your waistline when making dietary choices – but have you ever thought of your brain? A number of landmark studies in recent years have shown that in fact of all the organs in the body, the brain is most easily damaged by a poor diet.
The brain is our most active organ, consuming 25 per cent of our energy and at times up to 50 per cent of our oxygen. And while there is no magic bullet when it comes to maintaining a healthy brain, eating enough of certain nutrients has been proven to play an integral role in maintaining cognitive function and warding off dementia.
When researchers at Harvard University followed 75,000 people in their late 40s and early 50s over a period of 20 years, they found that those with a diet rich in colourful foods were 20 per cent less likely to suffer cognitive decline. Three portions of colourful fruit and vegetables a day can cut memory loss in old age by a fifth, a study from July 2021 found.
As a general rule, you should be aiming for a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit and vegetables, oily fish, wholegrains and the unsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts and avocados. You should also aim to lower your intake of foods with added sugars, saturated fat and processed meats and try to exercise on a regular basis.
Of course, you’ve probably heard this before – but science says it really does work. A 2017 study from the University of Edinburgh found that following the Mediterranean diet alongside moderate daily exercise slows the shrinkage of the brain in old age.
So, what food should you have on your plate for a healthy brain?
Five food rules for a better brain
Aim for three portions of colourful fruit and vegetables per day
The positive impact of a colourful diet on cognitive function is due to something called flavonoids, which have been shown to cut the risk of memory loss by a fifth. Flavonoids are found in a number of colourful fruits and vegetables like strawberries, blueberries, carrots and beetroot. If their brain-boosting benefits weren’t enough, a 2019 study also found that a diet rich in flavonoids helps protect against cancer and heart disease.
Eat one portion of oily fish per week (at least)
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel can’t be made by the body which means they must be obtained through food. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish in the form of EPA and DHA. These fats are important for healthy brain function, the heart, joints and our general well-being. Low DHA levels may be linked to an increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss, whilst having sufficient levels of both EPA and DHA is thought to help us manage stress and make the good mood brain chemical, serotonin.
Put the kettle on!
Tea is another source of the brain-boosting flavonoids found in colourful fruit and vegetables. Green tea also contains catechin, an antioxidant polyphenol that activates toxin-clearing enzymes.
The caffeine in tea (and coffee) also has short-term benefits for brain function: a study published in 2020 in the Journal of Nutrition showed that participants with higher caffeine consumption scored better on tests of cognitive function, and other studies have positively linked caffeine with the ability to consolidate new memories.
However, remember to stay hydrated too. Hydration is of the utmost importance for brain health – even a small decrease in water intake can result in impaired cognitive function and brain fog. As caffeine has a dehydrating effect, bookend teas or coffees with plenty of water.
Incorporate more tomatoes in your diet (preferably cooked)
There is good evidence to suggest that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells that occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s. Favour cooked tomatoes and enjoy with a little olive oil to optimise your body’s absorption and use. Other foods supplying this, and similar protective phyto-nutrients, include papaya, watermelon and pink grapefruit.
Don’t forget that as well as a healthy diet, exercise helps to keep our brains sharp. Research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively.
At The Pure Package, our mission is to help people become healthier and happier through a nutritionally balanced diet. If you’re looking to improve your mental health and boost your mood, consider our meal programmes that have been carefully designed to give you all the essential vitamins, minerals and fats you need to function at your best.