This week it was reported in the news that the previously held understanding that brain function begins to impair at 60 was incorrect. It is actually 45, and I and most of my friends can definitely verify this! Whether you have a family history of dementia or Alzheimers there are certainly steps you can take to slow down the ageing process of your brain. So here are my top tips for a healthy brain.
Brains take up about 2% of us, but use about 20% of our calories. They are high in fat and need good fats, particularly the omega 3 fats, DHA and EPA. These are found in oily fish like wild salmon, sardines and mackerel. But you need a lot of them to be consumed every day so taking a pharmaceutical grade supplement containing at least 400mg DHA daily is a good idea. Olive oil (use cold pressed extra virgin and drizzle on cooked food rather than heating) consumption in a Mediterranean style diet is also believed to improve cognitive function. However hydrogenated and trans fats found in commercially baked goods are extremely bad for the brain, as is very high levels of saturated (usually animal) fats.
Brain food is primarily glucose, a slow release though as high levels of sugar damage brain cells. A low GI diet of complex wholemeal carbohydrate is the best diet such as oats, rye bread, wholemeal pasta and brown rice and fibrous vegetables. A 2009 report in the Journal Appetite (Kristen et al) found that low carb, high protein diets like Atkins and Dukan can cause ‘significant drops in mental ability’.
A new major concern for all aspects of health but especially brain is the use of something called HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) which is added to a multitude of processed sweetened foods, like soft drinks. It has overtaken trans fats as the new food scare. (The fructose in fresh fruit does not have the same effect). So beware! Now for some more good brain foods...
Eggs and wheatgerm both contain choline, a phospholipid abundant in brain cell membranes. And eating eggs does not raise your levels of bad cholesterol so eat lots. Blueberries, research has shown a distinct improvement in cognitive function and short term memory. Foods rich in the B vitamins folic acid (dark green leafy vegetables, pulses), B12 (meat, fish, chicken and dairy), riboflavin (dairy foods, meat, wholegrains, Marmite) and B6 (peppers, spinach, broccoli, nuts, pulses, meat, seeds). These help reduce the accumulation of a toxic chemical called homocysteine that contributes to Alzheimers and dementia. Vitamin D. In the Summer get outside and have 20 minutes of sun exposure every day on unprotected skin (early in the day is best). In the Winter I recommend that everyone takes a supplement of about 1000iu a day.
Finally get your sleep, do exercise, keep your brain active and don’t drink too much.