Help protect your cognitive function with foods that support brain health, says Jayney Goddard
This is the second of a three-part series that looks at what provokes the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and other dementias. In part one, I shared some incredibly hopeful news, based upon exceptionally robust epidemiological studies, showing that these devastating conditions can be prevented, and even reversed, by using simple lifestyle modifications. These are activities and dietary changes that we can, and should, all do anyway, if we want to remain (biologically) youthful and vibrantly healthy, well into old (chronological) age.
In this second part of the series, we’re going to look at foods that support brain and cognitive health, and the surprising effect that metals, and the way we prepare foods, have upon our brain.
You’ll know that I always make health recommendations based upon robust scientific research, and that I promote a whole-food, plant-based diet. This way of eating is best for us, the planet and, of course, for our animal brothers and sisters. This isn’t just personal choice or a sentimental standpoint.
In fact, vast studies unanimously support this recommendation for overall health – physically, mentally and emotionally. Most recently, Harvard Medical School have made their position very clear, too, as they fully endorse the largely veggie-based ‘MIND diet’ for brain and cognitive health.
The MIND diet is a research-based eating approach that combines elements of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which reduces high blood pressure through a fruit and vegetable-rich plan. (DASH stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension, and MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH diet intervention for neurodegenerative delay).
MIND particularly emphasises a plantbased diet with, ideally, no animal products or saturated fats. Instead, there is a focus on including whole-plant foods, with a particular emphasis on eating berries and green leafy vegetables. Research has conclusively shown that these fruits and vegetables are most protective against dementia.
The MIND diet is flexible and nonrestrictive. There is no need to weigh and measure – just eat the foods on the list! This makes it easy to follow and stick with over time. And, even if you don’t follow it exactly, you’ll still see results. Research proves that the MIND diet reduces the risk of AD by as much as 53 percent among those who followed it strictly for an average of four and a half years. Even among people who were less rigorous in their adherence saw a 35 percent risk reduction. Older people who adhered to the diet experienced slower mental declines, and this made them the equivalent of 7.5 years cognitively younger than their peers who followed other diets.
The MIND diet emphasises these brain-healthy foods to include in your daily meals:
1. Green leafy vegetables – ring the changes with lots of different types of green leafies.
2. Other vegetables – look out for the brightly coloured veggies – such as sweet potatoes, red cabbage, and so on.
3. Nuts – pay attention to just how many you are eating though, as they are calorie and oil-rich – and, as we saw last month, excess oils can compromise cognitive health. I recommend no more than a portion of nuts per day – the amount of nuts that you can fit in your palm.
4. Berries – especially blueberries, blackberries, and other dark fruits and berries.
5. Fruits – the more intense the colour, the better.
6. Beans – wonderful sources of protein.
7. Whole grains – include a variety of whole grains.
Don’t eat these on the MIND diet:
1. Red meat
2. Butter and stick margarine
4. Pastries, sweets, refined sugar
5. Fried or fast foods
The MIND diet does allow for a tiny amount of chicken or fish – no more than two ounces per week – and only then if the person really cannot break their craving to these items. On a happier note, what I observe in my practice is that when people add more fruit and veggies to their diets, they quickly discover that their palate changes, and they find that they just don’t have the desire for animal-derived foods.
Cooking foods at high temperatures causes a slew of toxic chemicals to form – and one of the worst culprits found to cause cancer and dementia is charred food.
Roasting, barbecuing and toasting food causes the following toxins to form: acrylamide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs – compounds with several hexagonal ‘benzene rings’ fused together such as naphthalene and benzopyrene) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
The PAHs are formed from meat fat and juices dripping onto flames in cooking, and HCAs are generated, again in cooking, from reactions between molecules including amino-acids (the building blocks of proteins) and sugars.
Lastly, let’s look at the role of metals in the formation of cognitive disease. Alongside the beta amyloid plaques found in the brains of AD sufferers, researchers have also found aluminum deposits, and it is currently believed that aluminum is implicated in worsening AD. In addition, they have found other metals; copper, iron and zinc. All three of these metals are needed by the body – copper for building enzymes, iron for blood cells, and zinc for nerve transmission, among many other functions. You normally get these in the foods you eat. But if you get too much of any of them, they damage your brain cells. Metals can, in the presence of oxygen, oxidise (rust), and form highly dangerous free radicals. In fact, if we have excess copper in our bodies, and we eat high levels of animal (saturated) fats, our cognitive function can deteriorate – ageing us by up to 19 years! Iron and zinc, in excess, have a similar effect, as they speed up cognitive ageing.
All three metals are found in cookware – so try to use glass as much as possible as it is inert and doesn’t leech chemicals into your food. Also, check to see if you have copper pipes – think about having them replaced if feasible. If not, consider getting a reverse osmosis water filter. Finally, there is absolutely no need to supplement your diet with iron, copper, and zinc if you are eating a healthy whole-food, plant-based diet, as this will safely provide you with the right amounts of nutrients that you need for optimal wellness.
In the next issue, I will cover lifestyle strategies for brain and cognitive health.
Jayney Goddard is the author of the number one bestseller Rewind Your Body Clock: The Complete Natural Guide to a Happier, Healthier, Younger You (Watkins). Visit JayneyGoddard.org
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