More and more clients are coming to me with concerns about cognitive health and being sure they preserve brain function as they age. Some of my older clients are already experiencing cognitive decline and they want to take steps to reverse that trend.
Recently, I had the privilege of working with a client named David and he said he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at the age of 64. He came in to my practice quite terrified because he was still actively working in his own business, supporting a family and enjoying travel with his wife.
Anyone who is a young 64-year old in their prime can understand how devastating it must be to suddenly realize that you are not remembering things anymore and that your cognitive abilities are declining. Is there anything more terrifying than realizing that your brain function is diminishing?
When we dug into his health history and his eating habits, we discovered that he was a big fan of all the sweets. He loved his donuts at church on Sunday, dessert after most meals and many trips out for ice cream during the week. He also enjoyed drinking 3 or 4 glasses of wine most nights - wine is healthy, right?
The diet he was consuming was literally eating his brain. He worked diligently to incorporate a high-fat and low-carb eating style and eliminate much of the wine he was drinking. Over the course of a 12-week protocol, he not only lost weight but he noticed that his mood and energy were much improved. The best payoff was that his wife noticed that David was much less forgetful and he had landed a big new client account for his business because his brain was finally firing again. He felt like he was getting his life back. (Oh, and that libido was back online again after years of neglect. Wife was happy about that, too!)
Weighing about 3 pounds in the average adult, the brain is made up of approximately 60% fat and 40% a combination of water, protein, carbohydrates and salts. This complex organ controls thought, memory, emotion, and every process that regulates our body (1). While many factors can contribute to cognitive decline, like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, brain injury, mood disorder, or age-related changes, certain additions to your diet can protect and boost your brain-health.
SPOILER ALERT: The bottom line is this – your brain is 60% fat and it needs fat to operate optimally. Eating healthy fats is a game changer to brain health.
In today’s article, we’re going to highlight four brain-boosting superfoods if you’re feeling forgetful or are simply looking to support this complex organ!
Let’s start with a motivating statistic!
Studies have shown that consumption of green leafy vegetables was associated with slower cognitive decline that can be translated to the equivalent of being 11 years younger in age (2)!
The primary nutrients responsible for this statistic are vitamin K (phylloquinone), lutein, beta-carotene, nitrate, folate, kaempferol, and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) (3). Among all of the different types of vegetables, green leafy vegetables have been identified as having the strongest protective relations against cognitive decline (4).
One serving per day of green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, collards, or lettuce is all you to benefit from these nutrients!
Rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, phenolic acid, melatonin, folate, alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, phosphorus, and magnesium it’s easy to say that walnuts are a superfood (5)!
Walnuts contain several components that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which in turn, can improve cognitive performance, enhance memory, and boost brain function while reducing the risk and/or progression of certain diseases such as mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s (6).
Several studies have suggested that walnuts may also decrease the risk or progression of other brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and depression (7).
Recent clinical research has shown that berry fruits can prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases and improve motor and cognitive functions. The neuroprotective effects of berry fruits are related to phytochemicals such as anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, quercetin, kaempferol, and tannin (8).
While all berries are good for brain health, the blueberry should take the spotlight. Blueberries are bursting with antioxidants, specifically flavonoids. These antioxidants stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen in the brain, resulting in boosted concentration (9).
Regularly incorporating berries like strawberry, blueberry, bilberry, blackcurrant, blackberry, and mulberry is a great way to protect, support, and boost your brain health!
Omega-3 fatty acids, a major building block of the brain, play a role in sharpening memory, improving mood, and protecting your brain against cognitive decline. Fatty fish happens to be the best source of two of the three most important omega-3s, EPA and DHA.
Studies show that minimal intake of marine omega-3s increases the risk for numerous mental health issues, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, bipolar disorder, depression, and suicidal ideation (10).
Conversely, regular intake of fatty fish, or supplementation of omega 3s, has shown to improve numerous mental health conditions and benefit overall brain health.
Aim to incorporate fatty fish like anchovies, salmon, trout, cod, and sardines a few times a week.
In addition to incorporating these brain-boosting superfoods, remember that cognitive health is a reflection of many different lifestyle factors. Aim to eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, while paying close attention to your stress levels, digestive function, amount and quality of sleep, and frequency of physical activity!
1. “Brain Anatomy and How the Brain Works.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, 14 July 2021, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/anatomy-of-the-brain#:~:text=The%20brain%20is%20a%20complex,process%20that%20regulates%20our%20body.
2-4. Morris, Martha Clare, et al. “Nutrients and Bioactives in Green Leafy Vegetables and Cognitive Decline: Prospective Study.” Neurology, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 16 Jan. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5772164/#:~:text=Consumption%20of%20green%20leafy%20vegetables%20may%20help%20to%20slow%20decline,to%20contribute%20to%20brain%20health.
5-7. Chauhan, Abha, and Ved Chauhan. “Beneficial Effects of Walnuts on Cognition and Brain Health.” Nutrients, MDPI, 20 Feb. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071526/.
8. Subash, Selvaraju, et al. “Neuroprotective Effects of Berry Fruits on Neurodegenerative Diseases.” Neural Regeneration Research, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 15 Aug. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4192974/.
9. Northwestern Medicine. “Best Foods for a Healthy Brain.” Northwestern Medicine, https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/nutrition/best-food-for-a-healthy-brain.
10. DiNicolantonio, James J, and James H O'Keefe. “The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and Treatment of Behavior, Mood, and Other Brain Disorders.” Nutrients, MDPI, 4 Aug. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7468918/.