We all want a long, fun-filled, adventurous life with our loved ones. A study conducted in the US, found participants’ life expectancy to be an average of 93 years. Researchers in Germany found this figure to be 85 years. A 2021 Norwegian study found participants wanted to live no longer than 91 years and that dementia, chronic pain, loneliness, impaired cognition, and feeling like a burden to society were some of the reasons they didn’t want to live more.
A healthy life is more important than living longer. Several factors make the correlation between nutrition and brain health stronger as we age.
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Role of diet in brain aging
The human body, including the brain, declines as we age. Age-related mental lapses are common. Normal aging is accompanied by memory changes including difficulty in learning something new, absorbing new information, multi-tasking, remembering and recalling names, figures, appointments, and difficulty making critical decisions. People above 65 years of age are also at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, but younger people can be affected, too.
Throughout our life, what we eat has a major effect on how we age or how our brain functions. High sugar, refined carbs, unhealthy fats, and processed foods can contribute to inflammation and impaired memory, as well as increase your risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. A study that followed up with 2067 participants for about 7 years found that eating too much refined sugar increased the risk of dementia.
Sleep deprivation is associated with poor brain function, cognitive decline, and early aging of the brain (Source: Pexels)
Ultra-processed foods with high-calorie content, a high amount of sugar, and trans fats lack essential nutrients and are unhealthy for the brain. According to a study that included 18,080 people, a diet high in fried foods and processed meats was associated with poorer learning and memory performance. A mixture of energy drinks and alcohol is harmful to the brain as the combined effect increases the risk of alcohol dependency, confusion, blurred thinking, risky behavior, and sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation is associated with poor brain function, cognitive decline, and early aging of the brain.
Brain-promoting nutrition and foods
The natural aging of the brain cannot be stopped, but by eating brain-friendly foods on a consistent basis, we can improve brain longevity. The brain benefits from a healthy diet that includes fruits, green leafy vegetables, legumes, beans, whole grains, animal and plant proteins, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds. Polyphenol-rich, plant-based nutrition is especially beneficial for the brain. A 2021 study found that a diet rich in plant products reduced the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly.
There are certain nutrients that are imperative to our brain health; top six includes:
Choline: During gestation, choline is an essential nutrient for brain development. Animal studies have shown that choline deficiency during pregnancy negatively impacts fetal brain development in areas involved in cognition, learning, and memory, with long-term consequences. Choline is also vital for the synthesis of several brain components, including acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter essential to maintain memory function and learning. Choline is abundantly available in egg yolk, fatty fish, liver, red potatoes, soybeans, legumes, etc.
Omega-3 Fats: About 60 per cent of the brain is made up of fat, and 25 per cent of that fat is omega-3. In adults, docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA improve learning ability and cognitive efficiency, whereas deficiencies of DHA are associated with learning difficulties. Fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring, and mackerel are some of the best sources of these fats. ALA, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, is found in walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
lutein: Due to its high polyunsaturated fatty acid content and high metabolic rate, the brain is especially vulnerable to free radical damage. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of lutein, a plant antioxidant, may make it beneficial for visual and cognitive health throughout life. Best sources of lutein are spinach, kale, corn, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, avocados, and egg yolks.
B vitamins: B vitamins 1,2,3,6,9, and 12 play a significant role in maintaining healthy brain function. They enhance the production of neurotransmitters, a chemical that transmits messages between neurons in the brain and body. B vitamins also help prevent dementia. Top sources for B vitamins include lean meat, poultry, fish, dairy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Vegans and vegetarians are recommended to take vitamin B12 supplements since this vitamin can only be obtained through animal products.
protein: Amino acids found in protein are utilized to make neurotransmitters. The importance of protein for healthy aging lies in the prevention of muscle protein loss and better cognitive abilities. Severe protein deficiency can cause confusion, low energy, and a lack of mental acuity. Maintain a steady intake of protein-rich foods such as fish, lean chicken, eggs, Greek yogurt, tofu, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
Electrolyte minerals: Electrolytes are critical for keeping the brain and body hydrated and electrolyte-balanced. For neurons to function, they require small amounts of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Dehydration not only causes physical lethargy and muscle cramps, but also mental lethargy, resulting in brain fog and decreased focus. Along with water, eating electrolyte-enriched foods is recommended.
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