7 ways to feed your brain: From A to Zinc

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By Judith Boyko

There are myriad reasons to eat healthfully. Some of those reasons include living longer and stronger, maintaining good energy levels and thinking with a healthy brain.

headshot_jboykoBy now, we’ve all heard about the positive power of antioxidants, which may delay or prevent some types of cell damage, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.  Dark leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli are high in antioxidants, which may protect brain cells. Antioxidant-rich fruits include beets, oranges, cherries and prunes.

The Alzheimer’s Association reported that “a study of elderly women showed that those who ate the most green, leafy and cruciferous vegetables in the group were one to two years younger in mental function than women who ate few of these vegetables.”

Folic acid, otherwise known as folate or Vitamin B-12, is also brain-friendly. Folic acid slows down the effects of aging and may reduce depression. While the brain ages well in individuals who get enough folic acid, a lack of or deficiency in folic acid may lead to cognitive decline.

According to AARP, “split peas and other legumes are rich in folic acid, which … has been shown to improve verbal and memory performance, and may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s …” Other folate-rich foods include fortified cereals and breads; dark, leafy vegetables; avocados; peanuts; and citrus fruits or fortified juices.

For those who enjoy a spicier culinary adventure, turmeric is a powerful antioxidant found to clear the brain’s plaque proteins that cause Alzheimer’s. In fact, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, “In India, where turmeric is regularly used in foods, the occurrence of Alzheimer’s …  is one-fourth that of the United States among those in the 70 to 79 year age range.”

Turmeric also may suppress cancer, reduce inflammation and blood pressure and help maintain bone structure.

Vitamin D is touted for its benefits to the brain, including a reduction in inflammation, associated with “a number of brain conditions, including stroke, Parkinson’s disease and depression,” according to the January 2013 issue of Mind, Mood & Memory, a Massachusetts General Hospital newsletter. Vitamin D also improves cognitive impairment and reduces hypertension.

“Good sources of Vitamin D (include) fatty fish, fortified milk, beef liver, eggs and cheese,” according to the newsletter, which also recommends exposing yourself to sunlight for at least 15 minutes per day/three days per week; checking with your doctor to ensure that a medical condition is not contributing to a Vitamin D deficiency; and asking your doctor if a Vitamin D supplement is necessary.

Zinc, found in foods like dark chocolate, roasted pumpkin or squash seeds, roast beef, peanuts and crab, increases brain activity by increasing memory and cognition. Oysters have the best source of zinc, according to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements. The NIH recommends 8 milligrams of zinc daily for women and 11 milligrams daily for men.

A recipe for a healthy body includes eating well, staying hydrated and exercising regularly. Maintaining good brain health can be accomplished by supplementing our diet with important vitamins, minerals and nutrients to maintain high cognition levels and a strong memory.

Judith Boyko, MBA, MS, RN, is CEO of Century Health Systems, Natick Visiting Nurse Association and Distinguished Care Options. She can be reached at info@natickvna.org. For additional information, visit www.centuryhealth.org, www.natickvna.org or www.dco-ma.com.  Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.