Nutrition and the Older Adult: Which Foods Improve or Protect Memory?

Sunrise Senior Living  |  October 17, 2019
Nutrition and the Older Adult: Which Foods Improve or Protect Memory?
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Can food choices help improve your memory? It’s a question researchers have been exploring. Some believe a diet including healthy amounts of certain foods may even help prevent or delay the onset of dementia.

An article published by the American Academy of Neurology shared results of a comprehensive study of almost 28,000 people in 40 countries. They were followed for an average of five years. Their research revealed participants with the healthiest diets were 24 percent less likely to experience a decline in memory than those with the least healthy diets.

Which foods should you eat and which are best avoided? Here’s what research considers a healthy diet.

Memory-Boosting Foods

1. Fish-based omega-3 fatty acids

Adults with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood may be at a lower risk for memory loss and possibly even dementia. Researchers say omega-3s, specifically DHA and EPA, seem to reduce the development of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain while also reducing inflammation. Both are tied to dementia.

You can add these to your diet by consuming cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, and sardines. If you don’t like fish, you should talk with your primary care physician to determine if fish oil supplements might be beneficial.

2. ALA fatty acids

ALA fatty acids, another type of omega-3, likely play a role in maintaining a healthy brain and strong memory. Some research seems to indicate mice fed a diet rich in walnuts showed “significant improvement in learning skills [and] memory.”

ALA omega-3 is also found in flaxseed. You can easily add it to smoothies, baked goods, yogurt, scrambled eggs, and more. Flaxseed has the added benefit of pumping up the amount of soluble fiber in your diet. That helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol while also aiding digestion.

3. Ginger root

Ginger root increases acetylcholine activity in the brain. That’s vital for maintaining memory and learning skills. Ginger also helps prevent the production of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. Alzheimer’s drugs work in a similar manner, but ginger does so naturally.

Ginger has other benefits, too. As an antioxidant, it prevents the formation of free radicals while reducing inflammation in the body. Both are key for aging well.

4. Foods rich in glial cells

Berries, especially blackberries and blueberries, protect the brain’s glial cells. These non-neuronal cells comprise 90 percent of the brain’s tissue and help protect nerve cells from damage.

5. Leafy green vegetables

Studies show a single daily serving of kale, spinach, or other leafy green vegetables might slow cognitive decline. Researchers believe the folate, beta-carotene, and vitamin K in leafy greens have brain-boosting benefits.

What Not to Eat

Just as important as what you should eat to protect memory as you age is what not to eat. A low-sugar diet with a healthy balance of slow-burning carbohydrates (think whole grains, vegetables, and protein) at every meal may reduce a senior’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Maintaining healthy blood sugar is important because a growing amount of research links high blood sugar with Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, some experts go as far as to say Alzheimer’s disease should be considered type 3 diabetes.

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If you are interested in learning more about nutrition and healthy aging, we encourage you to bookmark Senior Eats. You’ll find a variety of articles and resources designed to keep you updated on the latest research on the role nutrition plays in living a longer, healthier life.