It’s no secret that a healthy diet can improve your energy levels and help you maintain your weight. But did you know that it can also help maintain or improve your brain function?
“Your diet affects your whole body, especially your brain,” says Mary Kalafut, MD, a neurologist at Scripps Clinic. “A healthy diet allows the body to be able to make new cells an create the energy needed to function well and fight diseases.”
Foods that support brain health are not hard to find. They’re often the same ones that are good for your heart and preventing heart disease. They’re good for reducing inflammation, which is a risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease.
“These are foods that are low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars and high in whole grain, fiber as well as lean proteins,” Dr. Kalafut says.
Certain foods are notably helpful for brain health due to the nutrients they contain. Fatty fish, nuts and seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show help with cognitive function.
Other foods, including berries and dark chocolate, are rich in antioxidants, which are known to help improve memory performance as we age.
The Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets are widely regarded as good for overall health, including brain health. DASH is often recommended to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Both emphasize eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats and low-fat dairy foods. Both discourage foods high on saturated fat, including red meats, full-fat dairy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.
The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet focuses on foods from each of these two proven diets that help improve brain health and lower the risk of cognitive decline.
MIND encourages eating all types of vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil as main cooking oil, whole grains, fish, beans, poultry and wine in moderation.
There are four types of fat. They all play a role in brain health.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known as good fats. They can help the brain function more efficiently. A good source of healthy fats can be found in fish, olive oil, avocados and nuts. Avocados can help prevent high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Trans and saturated fats are known as bad fats and contribute to cholesterol production. They’re often found in fried and processed foods and animal products.
“Bad fats raise the LDL or bad cholesterol and contribute to a variety of long-term health problems,” Dr. Kalafut says. “Good fats can lower your bad cholesterol, which can reduce your risk of stroke or heart attack.”
In addition to eating healthy, not smoking and exercising regularly are among the many things you can do to help maintain and improve your brain health. Just remember, it’s best to start those brain healthy habits as early as possible.