We hear all kinds of information about how to keep our bodies healthy. There are omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy heart, calcium for strong bones and dietary fiber for a healthy digestive system. But have you ever wondered what your brain needs to be happy and healthy?
Be on the move
Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the growth of new brain cells. Aerobic exercise increases the supply of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which protects brain neurons and promotes the growth of new nerve cells and synapses that are related to learning and memory.
That spare tire around your stomach may spell trouble for your brain. It’s the deeper layer of visceral fat cells in the tire, beneath the muscle layer, that are at fault. Visceral fat is an active organ producing hormone that can cause higher insulin levels. Too much insulin in your blood can lead to type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to dementia.
Lower blood pressure
High blood pressure may cause silent strokes that diminish brain reserve. Another theory is that high blood pressure may weaken the barrier that separates the brain from the rest of the body. The blood-brain barrier may become more permeable to proteins that could be toxic in the brain.
Given that your brain is about 80 percent water, the first rule of brain nutrition is providing adequate water to hydrate your brain. Even slight dehydration can raise stress hormones, which can damage your brain over time. Aim to drink half your weight in ounces of water each day.
Fish, fish oil, good fats
Research has revealed that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help promote a healthy emotional balance and positive mood in later years. It’s reasonable to eat more fish or take a daily fish oil, omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
Polyunsaturated fats found in salmon and mackerel, and the monounsaturated fats found in canola oil and soybean oil, are high in omega-3 fatty acids.Omega-3 fatty acids are considered good fat because they are important components of our cells and cell membranes, which are essential for life and health, including brain health.
Focus on eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to assure an intake of beneficial antioxidants.
Balance protein, good fats and carbohydrates
Having protein at each meal helps to balance blood sugar levels; adding lean meat, eggs, cheese, soy or nuts to a snack or meal limits the fast absorption of carbohydrates and prevents the brain fog that goes with eating simple carbohydrates, such as donuts. Try to get a balance of protein, high fiber carbohydrates and good fat.
Studies have reported less dementia in coffee drinkers. A study in Finland followed 1,400 people for 21 years. Those who drank three to five cups of coffee a day in middle age had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s or other dementia 21 years later than those who drank less … or more.
Supplements or food
Don’t depend on supplements to keep your brain sharp. Instead, eat a healthy diet and increase daily exercise. That may protect your brain by lowering your risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
For more information, call Marion County Public Health Department Nutrition Services, 221-7401.