When it comes to nutrition, historically the concern was deficiency of vitamins or minerals, and in some cases, this is still relevant (eg, Vitamin D). But new work is looking at the impact of food on the prevention of cognitive decline. Fortunately, much of the research around heart health—maintenance of healthy weight, exercise, and low intake of saturated fats—may pay off with regard to preserving brain function too! Further research is needed to understand and confirm or refute this potential link, but in the meantime, there are strategies you can take to assure better health through nutrition:
- Include a wide variety of colors of fruits and vegetables in your meals. The colors are associated with different vitamins, minerals, and other potentially beneficial antioxidants.
- So, make sure half of each meal is vegetables and fruits. If your breakfast does not include vegetables, it is important to eat a veggie as part of a snack or double up at a meal.
- Fruit choices are whole fruits, without added sugar, rather than juice.
- Embrace whole grains (eg, oatmeal, brown rice, farro, barley, quinoa, whole wheat). This category also includes starchy vegetables like butternut squash, sweet potatoes, peas, and corn. Refined grains are all of the carbs without the nutrients or fiber.
- Choose protein choices that are lean, not fried, approximately the size of your smart phone, and include 7 oz. fish (eg, salmon, tuna, lake trout) each week because of their omega-3 fatty acid content. Non-animal sources of protein are also encouraged (eg, nuts, beans, peas, and legumes).
- Incorporate dairy choices that are low-fat and fortified with vitamin D. If a choice is yogurt, which contains healthy organisms (probiotic), even better!
What about fats and sweets?
- Eating healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, or avocado is recommended. They also help you absorb fat soluble vitamins and help you feel satisfied!
- Sweets and treats are best enjoyed sometimes rather than daily because of their limited nutrient content.
Fortunately, each day does not need to be perfect! It is the overall pattern of intake that really matters for heart and overall health, hopefully more research will emerge supporting this for nutrition and brain health too!
Happy and healthful eating,
Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN