frailty, maintain your brain

If you are an older person who wants to maintain your brain, you should be very careful about what you eat. You may feel that lifestyle changes after age 65 couldn’t make much difference for your health. On the contrary, a healthy diet continues to be critical.

A Whole-Food Diet to Maintain Your Brain:

A study tracked more than 4,000 Dutch people with an average age of 66 (Croll et al, Neurology, online May 16, 2018). Those who reported eating more vegetables, fruit, fish and nuts had bigger brains than those who ate processed meat and drank sugary beverages The volunteers filled out detailed dietary questionnaires and then went through MRI brain imaging.

The investigators calculated diet quality scores for all the participants. In addition, they adjusted for other factors known to affect brain size, including age, sex, smoking and physical activity. The scientists found, after the adjustments were made, that people who ate healthier fare had bigger brains. The difference came to about two milliliters on average. A typical person experiences about 3.6 milliliters of brain shrinkage in a year. No single food accounted for this difference; it appears to be linked to overall diet quality.

The researchers concluded:

“High intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, dairy, and fish and low intake of sugar-containing beverages were associated with larger brain volumes.”

Previous Studies on Diet and Brain Power:

The size of the brain is not all that may be affected by diet. Previous research linked a whole-food diet rich in vegetables to better cognitive function as well.

An observational study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease tracked dietary data of more than 900 senior citizens. These volunteers provided detailed data over the course of a year. Neuropsychologists, nurses and doctors evaluated their mental function. Only those who were free of any signs of dementia or cognitive decline were followed over the next few years.

Older people who consumed the most bread, pasta, cereal, cookies and other carbohydrates had a substantially higher risk of cognitive decline than those who ate the fewest carbs. Conversely, high fat diets were linked to less trouble with memory, judgment and language. Higher protein diets were also associated with a slightly reduced risk. The authors suggest that the more carbs people consume, the greater the likelihood that high blood sugar and insulin levels might interfere with brain function (Roberts et al, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Oct. 2012).

They concluded:

“A dietary pattern with relatively high caloric intake from carbohydrates and low caloric intake from fat and proteins may increase the risk of MCI [mild cognitive impairment] or dementia in elderly persons.”

A Mediterranean Diet Could Help Maintain Your Brain:

The Mediterranean diet appears to protect people against heart disease. In addition, it may also protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. One study tested more than 1,800 elderly New Yorkers every few years between 1992 and 2006 (Scarmeas et al, Journal of the American Medical Association, August 12, 2009). The scientists analyzed the volunteers’ exercise and dietary habits. Those who were most physically active and those who most closely followed a Mediterranean-type diet were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The same issue featured a five-year French study of 1,410 older people living in Bordeaux (Féart et al, Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug. 12, 2009). Paricipants eating a Mediterranean diet performed better on a test of mental function. These individuals were following the French version of a Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables, fruits and beans. Olive oil is the main source of fat, although nuts are also an important component. This appears to be a tasty way to improve the chance of enjoying a healthy old age.

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  1. Amelia
    North Carolina

    Here we go again. I read the Blue Zones book about the longest living people in the world. Supposedly they eat mostly vegetables, fruit, little dairy and meat and drink a little red wine with meals. Now this article says too many carbs from vegetables and fruit and not enough fat and protein will keep dementia at bay in older adults. I always thought plain oatmeal with some fruit was good for you, ditto fish and chicken. What is an older (& younger) person to eat to keep cognitive function? I am perplexed.

    • Trish

      0bviously, eat lots of fruit and veggies. The carbohydrates from vegetables (except really starchy ones like potatoes) are balanced with fiber that slows absorption. The carbohydrates to avoid are the ones that come via pasta, bread, cake, cookies, basically anything made with flour, and the really rapidly metabolized carbs from refined sugar.

      • SARA
        Fayetteville, North Carolina

        Trish, I agree with you. I make cream cheese cake with Stivia. That is my dessert, as well as my doggies’!

  2. Reecy7
    Hampton, Va.

    Where can I find the best menus for a Mediterranean diet, preferably free? I already eat mostly fruit, vegetables and beans but can’t seem to pull a plan together to insure that I am eating a healthy amount of each every day.

  3. Mort from Oregon

    Husband is nearly 77 Been on Warifin for 7 years, I am nearly 75. Most all good green veggies are OUT of his diet, have to keep his count between 2-3, at the monthly blood test. Hard to make a good salad for him and sides dishes. We are both on a restrictive food consumption He to lose 70 pounds, ( started May 1 and lost 13 pounds. Goal is by Christmas to get it OFF.) and I have a H hernia and Barrett’s Esophagities. Very restrictive choices, for me. Since the diagnoses, I have lost 25 pounds. sadly.

    We are over 3 h just to drive to the store and back, so shopping is only 7-10 days. Keeping fresh veggies is a chore to stay fresh that long. Tried many containers and methods.

    We live in the high desert, so fresh fish is not an option, but do have salmon, halibut and shrimp in the freezer. On a ranch and grass fed lean Angus beef in the freezer too.

    Any advise, would be deeply appreciated.

    • Mort from Oregon

      To further complicate my food intake, I am a brain tumor survivor, 8 years now. During the surgery, they severed my taste bud nerve. So basically I taste nothing. I do detect sweet, sour, salt and heat. It took a long time convincing my stomach to accept foods that the brain could not ID. To keep the foods down I added hot sauce to everything, well not ice cream. :). That proved not to be a good idea, now with the Esophagitis, I guess.
      I eat by smell and memory.

      • Kat
        Mesquite, TX

        I too can only taste a few things. It comes from my lack of a sense of smell. I taste sweet and salty mostly. I use texture and how some things melt in my mouth to judge what I like. I end up eating too much chocolate.

    • SJ

      When on Warfarin they should be adjusting this to his diet not his diet to this medication. Tell the INR nurse that he is going to start eating more green food and she should gladly help,with the adjustment. Start with adding a great salad every day then add in some green beans, kale, etc. This isn’t hard once the INR nurse knows the reason behind the diet changes. Good luck.

    • Beverly B
      Beaverton, Oregon

      For Mort: I was also on Warfarin and it was a nightmare with all that testing and unhealthy dietary restrictions. I complained and was changed to Xerelto, which is SO much better! Less bruising, if any as well. Talk to your doctor about changing your anticoagulant. Long term usage of warfarin is not recommended anymore. Good luck.

    • Stephanie

      People taking Warfarin can eat as many greens, including brassicas, as they want, as long as it’s consistent. The amount of warfarin prescribed is based on the relative level of vitamin K in the blood and that level will remain fairly stable as long as the amount of greens consumed is consistent. My husband takes Warfarin and eats broccoli, kale, or collards every day with no problems.

  4. David

    People are eating out a lot. People say they don’t cook any more. It’s hard to keep up what s right now. Before you know it that’s bad. It’s really confusing.

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