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Healthy Eating for a Healthy Brain

LifeCare Diagnostic

December 08, 2021

Introduction

This resource uses the latest available evidence to provide information about healthy eating for a healthy brain. It is designed to help all healthy adults aged 18 and above, including:

  • students or employees – who are concerned about brain function at work (e.g. memory, concentration) 
  • middle-aged and older adults – who are at risk of developing dementia

Dementia

  • It is a term used to describe a series of conditions caused by diseases that affect the brain.
  • Conditions include:
    • decreased memory
    • decreased thinking ability 
  • which will affect daily work and life

Brain Facts:

“Our brain - is the core organ in our body.”

  • It can control everything you do, even while you are sleeping or breathing.
  • No matter how old you are, keeping your brain healthy is the key to a happy life and health.
  • A healthy brain will enable you to:
    • focus better
    • improve learning and memory
    • improve problem-solving abilities and so on

“Our brain changes with age. It begins to show signs of mental decline as we enter our 20s.”

  • As we get older, changes occur in the brain and these changes affect the way we recall things
  • For instance, we will start to forget names, lose and forget things – the sign of short-term memory loss
  • These are common changes!

“Poor brain health — is something much worse than what you think.”

What Does The Experts Say?

“Food does play a role in brain function”.

Experts have found that:

  • our brain only accounts for 2% of our body weight
  • 20-25% of the total energy we get from our diet is used to feed our brain

Our brain needs to be fed constantly in order to work well. It affects the health and function of the brain in many ways. This includes:

  • communication between brain cells
  • the growth of new nerve cells
  • the interconnection between all cells

In turn, these affect our performance, such as:

  • concentration
  • learning
  • processing information
  • memory

Therefore, our brain does need a balanced and healthy diet to maintain or achieve optimal brain function.

Recent studies found that: “Adults aged 60 and above, who have long adapted to a healthy brain diet – the “MIND diet”, have: (1) a slow decline in brain health and (2) a lower brain disorders risk (Dementia).”

Meditarence-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay Diet

This diet emphasised 10 specific brain-healthy food choices, focusing on a comprehensive and balanced selection of food: 

  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Colourful vegetables
  • Berries
  • Legumes/ Beans
  • Nuts 
  • Poultry (source of protein)
  • Whole grains 
  • Olive oil  
  • Fish (source of omega-3, the good fat)
  • Wine 

While limiting consumption of 5 specific foods. 

This dietary pattern delivers the following essential elements to feed our body and brain:

  • Vitamins and minerals (such as B vitamins and Vitamin D) 
  • Antioxidants (Vitamin C and E) 
  • Quality carbohydrates (to control blood sugar) 
  • Healthy oils (omega 3) 
  • Polyphenols 
These specific nutrients obtained from the diet are crucial in the following aspects:
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Prevent oxidative damage

2 key actions
that help keep our brain structures and cells in good condition. 

“Water plays a big role too. Lack of water intake can cause our brain and cells to work harder than usual”.

Causes:

  • Lack of energy
  • Less alert, not paying attention
  • Poorer thinking ability

To Prevent:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to ensure brain’s function

Tips for Healthy Eating with Healthy Brain:

References

Eat for Health. Australian Dietary Guidelines [Internet]. Australia: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2013 Feb [cited 2020 July 31]. Available from: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/n55_australian_dietary_guid elines.pdf 

Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australia’s leading causes of death, 2018 [Internet]. Australia, Canberra: ABS [updated 2020 July 25; cited 2020 July 31]. Available from: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2018~Main %20Features~Australia’s%20leading%20causes%20of%20death,%202018~1 

MIND Over Mediterranean: Australian Study Suggests MIND Diet Reduces the Risk of Dementia. Targeted News Service 2019 Mar 07. 

Agarwal P, Wang Y, Buchman AS, Holland TM, Bennett DA, Morris MC. MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence and Delayed Progression of Parkinsonism in Old Age. J Nutr Health Aging. 2018 12;22(10):1211-1215. 

Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Barnes LL, Bennett DA, et al. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Sep ;11(9):1015-1022. 

Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1007-1014. 

Pross N. Effects of Dehydration on Brain Functioning: A Life-Span Perspective. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2017; 70 (1), 30-36. 

Wittbrodt MT, Millard-Stafford M. Dehydration Impairs Cognitive Performance: A Meta-analysis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2018; 50(11), 2360–2368. 

Fernando Gómez-Pinilla. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. 2008; Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578. 

Linus Pauling Institute. Cognitive Function in Depth [Internet]. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University [cited 2020 Aug 1]. Available from: https://lpi.oregonstate.

10 Brain Healthy Foods

GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES

6 or more servings weekly

  • Green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin E and B9 (folate).
  • Important in: protecting all cell membranes and brain function. There is evidence that a large amount of plant based foods are related to a slow decline in mental health.

ALL NUTS & SEEDS

5 servings weekly

  • Nuts are a source of protein. It also contain antioxidants (vitamin E), healthy fats. Protein is a key nutrient needed to:

    • Deliver messages between cells
    • Maintain brain cell communications
    • Help with memory and thinking

1 serve = 30g (walnuts, almonds)

COLOURFUL VEGETABLES

At least one serving daily

Colourful vegetables (carrot, cabbage etc) are antioxidant-rich plant products. Similar to leafy green products, it helps delay brain ageing and functional decline.

1 serve = 1/2 cup of cooked; 1 cup raw (salad)

beans

3 or more servings weekly

Beans are an important source of protein, fibre and B vitamins. It has also found to boost memory and improve concentration.
1 serve = 1 cup canned/ cooked beans or legumes

 

FRUITS (BERRIES )

2 or more servings weekly

Berries are rich in Vitamin E and C (antioxidants). It helps:
Protect the brain from the effects of aging.
Supports brain cells communication to promote learning and memory.
1 serve = 1 cup of berries

 

FISH

1 or more serving weekly

Fish provide Vitamin D and B2. It is also an excellent source of omega-3, a type of fat that the human body cannot produce. Brain health benefits include emotion regulation (depression) and thinking.
1 serve = around 115g raw fish (salmon/ tuna/ sardines)

WHOLE GRAINS FOOD

3 or more servings daily

Whole grains are pack with B vitamins and good carbohydrates. Important in:

  • Controls the supply of energy
  • Creates new brain cells
  • Concentration and learning

1 serve = 1 slice of bread; 1/2 cup cooked rice / pasta; 2/3 cup cereals

POULTRY

2 or more servings weekly

Avoid deep-fried. Poultry is a source of selenium, zinc, copper, B vitamins and iron. Iron participates in the transport of oxygen to the brain. This helps us to better concentrate and learning.

1 serve = 100g uncooked poultry

OLIVE OIL

Use as daily cooking oil

Olive oil has a strong anti-inflammatory function. It is also named as the “Healthy/ Good Fats”. Studies showed that people who used olive oil for daily cooking have:

  • Greater benefits for brain health, improved mood and memory.

ALCOHOL (WINE)

1 serve (100ml) every day

The polyphenols found in red wine can help:

  • Slow down brain cell damage associated with ageing
  • Lower risk of dementia

5 Types of Food that You Should “Eat Less”

Foods that contain large amounts of BAD FATS (saturated fats and trans fats) in high quantity are linked to the development of many other diseases and poor brain health. 

It is best to consume only small amounts every week.

1. Pastries, sweet foods

 Reduced to 4 serves weekly

= 2 scoops / 1 small / 1 slice / 1/30 (60g)

2. Red meats

Reduced to 4 serves weekly 

= About 90 – 100g uncooked pork/ lamb/ beef

3. Cheese

Reduced to only 1 serve weekly

= 2 slices of cheese

4. Fried/fast food

Reduced to only 1 serve weekly 

= 1 small fries / 3 nuggets / 1 hash brown

5. Butter and Margarine

Best 1 tablespoon weekly

= 1 tablespoon

References

Eat for Health. Australian Dietary Guidelines [Internet]. Australia: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2013 Feb [cited 2020 July 31]. Available from: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/n55_australian_dietary_guid elines.pdf 

Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australia’s leading causes of death, 2018 [Internet]. Australia, Canberra: ABS [updated 2020 July 25; cited 2020 July 31]. Available from: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2018~Main %20Features~Australia’s%20leading%20causes%20of%20death,%202018~1 

MIND Over Mediterranean: Australian Study Suggests MIND Diet Reduces the Risk of Dementia. Targeted News Service 2019 Mar 07. 

Agarwal P, Wang Y, Buchman AS, Holland TM, Bennett DA, Morris MC. MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence and Delayed Progression of Parkinsonism in Old Age. J Nutr Health Aging. 2018 12;22(10):1211-1215. 

Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Barnes LL, Bennett DA, et al. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Sep ;11(9):1015-1022. 

Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1007-1014. 

Pross N. Effects of Dehydration on Brain Functioning: A Life-Span Perspective. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2017; 70 (1), 30-36. 

Wittbrodt MT, Millard-Stafford M. Dehydration Impairs Cognitive Performance: A Meta-analysis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2018; 50(11), 2360–2368. 

Fernando Gómez-Pinilla. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. 2008; Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578. 

Linus Pauling Institute. Cognitive Function in Depth [Internet]. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University [cited 2020 Aug 1]. Available from: https://lpi.oregonstate.

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