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Preventive Maintenance: Food for thought

Let's face it; since we're not dead, we must be getting older. Our mirrors remind us every day. And so may our memory, or should I say, lack of memory?...

Let’s face it; since we’re not dead, we must be getting older. Our mirrors remind us every day. And so may our memory, or should I say, lack of memory?

Unfortunately as we age, the nerve connections between our brain cells break down, affecting our thought processes. However, research has shown that healthy eating, along with mental stimulation can help slow down, or even reverse this problem.

According to the most current research, a brain-healthy diet is one that reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, encourages good blood flow to the brain, and is low in fat and cholesterol. Like the heart, the brain needs this balance of nutrients to function well.

Eating a diet rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin E, Omega-3 fatty acids, (especially along with vitamin C), vitamin B12, and folate may lower your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s, since these nutrients appear to protect brain cells.

In general, dark-skinned vegetables and fruits have the highest levels of naturally occurring antioxidant levels. These vegetables include: kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, onion, corn and eggplant.

The fruits with high antioxidant levels include: prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries. As well as these nuts: almonds, pecans and walnuts, which are a good source of the antioxidant, vitamin E.

Certain cold water fish contain beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids: halibut, mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna. Currently, we’re not sure how much of these foods you need to keep your brain in great shape. However, a study of the elderly showed that those who ate the most dark green, leafy vegetables in the group were one to two years younger in mental function than those who ate just a few of these vegetables.

In addition to foods, weight is another issue to consider. Your body weight is tied to your mental health. A long-term study of 1,500 adults found that those who were obese in middle age were twice as likely to develop dementia in later life. Those who also had high cholesterol and high blood pressure had six times the risk of dementia. There are more reasons for keeping your weight down than just looking great.

To maintain a healthy weight, it’s best to adopt an overall food lifestyle, rather than a short-term diet. Eat in moderation. Reduce how much fat and cholesterol you’re eating, since studies have shown that high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol clogs the arteries to the brain, putting you at a higher risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, HDL (or “good”) cholesterol may help protect brain cells, so use mono- and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil, for example. Try baking or grilling your food instead of frying it.

But don’t just focus on what you’re eating. Add a few regular physical activities to your daily schedule. You decide what’s best for you and just do it!

As well, add mental stimulation to your day. Driving the highways day after day can get monotonous. Take along something to keep your mind active. Pack a crossword puzzle to work on while you’re waiting for your load. Take a book, magazine or newspaper to read. You might also consider enrolling in a distance education course at a university. If you don’t feel that ambitious, go to the library and take out a book on tape. If you’re young, think ahead. And if you’re not so young, stay ahead, by keeping your mind in shape with healthy eating, exercise, and social interaction. It’s just food for thought.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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