The role of food in preventing memory loss

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The role of food in preventing memory loss
The role of food in preventing memory loss

Before you go out buying expensive, unproven supplements, you might just want to run by your green-grocer first.

As someone who has become increasingly aware of lapses in my own memory (and not just the memories that make my defeated opponents bigger, faster, and stronger, or my achievements more nearly Nobel Prize worthy), I am an avid reader and researcher of topics that pertain to memory loss and its prevention.

I have written in the past about including mental and physical workouts, as well as a few memory tips that increase our memory ability.  But I have been recently looking at the effects of what we put in our mouths on our memories.

We are each, hopefully, aware that our bodies need the proper variety of nutrition to keeps us healthy and prevent disease.  As well, it follows that our brains benefit from the ideal amount and combination of foods that contain the proper mix of sugars, proteins, fats, and vitamins. It stands to reason that when our brains are healthy and functioning properly, our memories will improve as well.

Anyone listening to the media or reading any of the periodicals targeted at Silver Lifers will have been bombarded with innumerable products that claim to aid us in fighting off the various effects of aging.

Just for fun I took less than a minute and searched the internet under the heading of Memory Loss Supplements.  I found myriad products with various claims of near-miraculous results. But to quote the Harvard Medical School “Can taking a pill improve memory or boost brain function?” That’s an important question to ask about the long list of supplements that allegedly “support” or “help” the brain. These include three B vitamins (folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12) and antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and coenzyme Q10.

But wait, there’s more: The herbal supplements huperzine A and ginkgo biloba, along with nutraceuticals like fish oil (containing omega-3 fatty acids), curcumin, and coconut oil. Cross off most of these products for lack of solid scientific evidence, reports the December 2012 Harvard Men’s Health Watch. ‘There are a lot of things out there for which we have no data on whether they are safe or do anything to help,’ says Dr. Gad Marshall, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

So before we go spending our hard-earned dollars on what may be spurious, unproven, or at least overly optimistic products, let’s look at what we know can produce results with simply refining our meals and snacks.

Basically there are two principles involved: first, we can gum up our mental works by having high cholesterol and unhealthy fats in our brains – so limit foods that contain them to the bare minimum; second, the right foods clean out our mental pathways and prevent or limit future problems – so let’s increase our memories by eating healthy alternatives like fruit, vegetables and even the correct fats.

Starting with what will help unclog or prevent gumming up of the brain and body, we’ll look at the unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocados, sesame oil, corn oil, peanuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.  You will find these and others abundantly in such foods as cold water fish like salmon, trout, herring, and mackerel. Each of these will provide essential nutrients that help build up and maintain our body’s cells and at the same time increase levels the antioxidant vitamin E which most of us need to increase in our lives.

Now that we’ve introduced the topic of vitamins, let’s look at those next.  For a healthy brain, we need to have Vitamins E, C, and B12 along with folic acid. A daily diet strong in fruits, vegetables, legumes will provide these vitamins, and a supplement of a multivitamin will ensure that you have these essentials, but the supplement does NOT substitute for a diet that includes daily portions of the foods above.

Specifically, the fruits and vegetables that I’m talking about are fruits like raspberries, blueberries, black berries, strawberries, cherries, plums, oranges, and red grapes; in other words the bright and dark fruits. The vegetables that serve us well are those that are bright green like broccoli, kale, sprouts, bell peppers, spinach and asparagus.  Also on the list are eggplant, onions, and corn. Along with the fruits and vegetables we also want to remember that the bread and pasta we eat should be whole wheat.

We do not have to give up all the sweet desserts, because our bodies need the glucose in sweets for energy.  So a little natural sugar is helpful, just limit the cakes and other high fat foods that we are tempted to indulge in.

For some of us, all of this is not news, but it may require that we change a lifetime of eating habits so that we can remember that lifetime and the people that made the lifetime worth living.

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