Fish is one of those foods we’ve heard is good for the heart. Recent research has discovered that eating fish can likewise preserve your brain function as you age.
A 2016 study at Rush Medical Center in Chicago looked at 554 Chicago residents taking part in a long-term aging study. They all died within a ten-year period. The subjects’ brains were examined during autopsy.
Scientists looked for neuritic plaque and other signs of Alzheimer’s. Among the members of the group who had the genetic marker APOE4, which carries an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, the ones who ate seafood at least once a week had lower levels of three different physical signs of the disease.
It seems that eating seafood regularly helped these people escape the effects of the gene that had predisposed them to developing Alzheimer’s.4
But there are many other “brain foods” besides fish. Hint: cholesterol is one of them.
Most people know that eating the right foods and staying away from the wrong ones can improve heart health. Research shows that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and whole grains can strengthen the heart and lower the risk of heart disease.1
It’s only in the recent past that similar findings have been accepted (at least by some doctors and scientists) for Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, this publication has been a leader in spreading the word. It’s still unknown to most people.
It turns out the brain-healthy way to eat is similar to the heart-healthy way. If you look at the research that’s explored the connection between our eating habits and our brain health as we age, a lot of the findings confirm that a diet consisting largely of vegetables, fruits, fish, grains, and healthy fats is the best choice.
The Mediterranean Diet for Both Heart AND Brain
One recent study looked at 5,907 older adults who ate the Mediterranean-style diet – which is pretty much the list of foods I just gave you — or a variation called the MIND diet that consists of the same healthy foods, but also allows butter, sweets, red meat, cheese, and fried foods.
When researchers measured the participants’ cognitive and memory skills, they found that they scored significantly higher on cognitive measures than did people who ate less healthy diets.
They also had a 35% lower chance of doing poorly on cognitive tests (those on the MIND diet had a 15% lower chance of scoring poorly).2
But some of the lesser known details of brain-healthy food are more surprising, and fascinating. . .
Green Vegetables Preserve “Crystallized Intelligence”
A December 2016 study at the University of Illinois helped pinpoint the paraphippocampal cortex as the brain region responsible for preserving crystallized intelligence, or the ability to use learned knowledge and experience.
The researchers discovered that lutein, a pigment found in abundance in green, leafy vegetables, accumulates in this area of the brain in people with more highly preserved crystallized intelligence. Lutein is usually thought of as an eye nutrient.
But it’s much more. This study suggests that lutein actually may help us preserve our ability to keep and use what we’ve learned in a lifetime, rather than slowly forgetting it or having it become inaccessible.3
Your Brain Needs Cholesterol
Cholesterol is found in animal products high in saturated fat, such as meat or butter and other full-fat dairy products. Over the last few decades, the conventional medical community has unfairly demonized cholesterol. Foods with cholesterol do not cause high blood cholesterol or contribute to heart disease.
But numerous studies do indicate that cholesterol is actually good for your brain!
An article in the European Journal of Internal Medicine reviewed the effects of a high carbohydrate, low fat diet on the development of Alzheimer’s disease.5
They concluded that deficient levels of cholesterol are directly associated with various processes that destroy neurons and are closely associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Eat Your Way to a Healthy Brain
Essentially, eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods — that common-sense advice you often hear — is the best way to protect your brain from cognitive decline.
A diet rich in vegetables and fruits, fish, berries, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats is your best bet. Meat, eggs, coconut oil, avocados, and cheese, not fried food and processed fat, are what you’re after.
Learn to eat this way consistently, and you will stack the odds in your favor when it comes to avoiding dementia and cognitive decline as you get older.
- Food consumption and its impact on cardiovascular disease: Importance of solutions focused on the globalized food system.
- Mediterranean-style diets linked to better brain function in older adults.
- Parahippocampal cortex mediates the relationship between lutein and crystallized intelligence in healthy, older adults.
- Association of seafood consumption, brain mercury level, and APOEe4 status with brain neuropathology in older adults.
- Nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease: The detrimental role of a high carbohydrate diet.