Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
7 Foods That Reverse Brain Aging By 8 Years
“Are there any foods that reverse brain aging,” Steve’s wife asked.
“Why do you ask?” I replied.
Just then, Steve said, “What is this lump under my skin?” He had completely forgotten all about the pacemaker surgery I had done for him the week before.
“He has been getting more and more forgetful over the last couple of years” his wife said.
Currently, 1 in 8 U.S. homes now have someone who is struggling with memory issues. Many of these people are younger adults.
Fortunately, there is something you can do. Studies show that eating the right foods can make your brain function 8 years younger. In this article I share the 7 essential foods which have been shown to reverse brain aging by 8 years.
Best Two Anti-Brain Aging Ways of Eating
While many websites, news reports, and popular books claim the latest fad diet will reverse brain aging, there are actually few ways of eating that have been scientifically proven to reverse brain aging. Here are the two best ways of eating that optimize brain performance.
1. Traditional Mediterranean: Reverses Brain Aging by 8 Years
Contrary to popular belief, the Mediterranean way of eating is not pizza and pasta. Rather, it is mostly plant-based with some meat, mostly fish. There are a lot of fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and whole grains in this traditional eating style. This way of eating minimizes or avoids sugar, soda pop, red meat, and pastries.
2. MIND Diet: Reverses Brain Aging by 8 Years
The MIND Diet is a new, science based diet, created by researchers at Rush University in Chicago. This way of eating is also mostly plant based with some fish and poultry for meat. In contrast to the Mediterranean way of eating, the MIND Diet asks for green leafy vegetables every day but less fruit, fish, and potatoes. Berries are emphasized. This way of eating minimizes or avoids sugar, red meat, fried foods, cheese, butter, and margarine.
7 Foods That Reverse Brain Aging By 8 Years
While the Mediterranean and MIND ways of eating both reverse brain aging by eight years, neither eating style corners the market on maximizing brain function. Based on my careful review of the studies on the Mediterranean and MIND ways of eating, in combination with the latest research on “brain foods,” I have compiled a list of the 7 most critical foods that reverse brain aging.
1. Salad Plus Other Veggies Daily
Every study I reviewed supported the critically important role of vegetables in maintaining a healthy brain. Of the vegetables, the strongest data are for the green leafy vegetables which include kale, spinach, and lettuce–basically the green leafy vegetables.
The benefit of a daily salad for the brain likely comes from all of the folate, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and flavonoids in salad. Incorporating a daily salad is something that is easy for most of my patients to do. Personally, I like a daily salad as part of my breakfast.
The one thing to remember in eating salads is to not undo any potential brain benefit by the toppings or salad dressing. The best salad dressings are either a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar or a homemade dressing using the healthiest of ingredients. For ideas on great homemade salad dressings, please take a look at some of my wife’s salad dressing recipes.
2. Berries Plus Other Fruit
When it comes to fruit, the strongest data for optimal cognitive function comes from berries. While blueberries are often viewed as the best brain fruit, all berries appear beneficial.
Fruit is high in anti-oxidants, vitamins C and E, as well as folate which has been shown to block plaque formation in the brain. Thus, for optimal brain function, include a serving of berries on most days.
Most of my patients like berries in their smoothies, on their oatmeal, or in their yogurt. Personally, I like savoring the sweet taste of berries by eating them plain.
3. Olive Oil
In one of the best types of medical studies that can be done, using olive oil as your primary oil was shown to significantly improve memory and cognition. Indeed, the traditional Mediterranean style of eating consumes a lot of olive oil.
While coconut oil is very popular on the internet right now, there are limited quality studies showing the long-term brain benefit of this oil. If you are looking for an oil that has been scientifically proven to improve brain performance, make olive oil the primary oil that you use.
4. Fish Weekly
Oily fish, like salmon, has long been associated with a healthy brain. While the traditional Mediterranean way of eating calls for fish several times a week, other studies show that less fish may be required for optimal cognitive function.
It is for this reason that the new MIND Diet only calls for fish once a week. If you are not a fish eater, the MIND Diet also encourages poultry.
Fish has been shown to reduce plaque build up and increase nerve connections in the brain. Thus, for a healthy brain, shoot for at least one serving of an oily fish each week. Personally, I eat wild salmon at least once weekly.
5. Beans on Most Days
Beans are a staple for traditional cultures which enjoy great health and low rates of dementia. When it comes to legumes, both the Mediterranean and MIND ways of eating recommend legumes on most days.
If you don’t like beans, you can get the same nutritional benefits from lentils. Lentils are also nice in that they are less gas producing. For ideas on new recipes using legumes, please see my wife’s recipes.
6. Walnuts Plus Other Nuts Daily
As with olive oil, a high quality study showed that eating nuts daily significantly improved memory and cognition. The nuts used in this study were primarily almonds and walnuts.
As discussed in my last blog article, due to the extremely high amount of omega 3 fatty acids in walnuts, these nuts may be the best nut for cognitive function. Indeed, just one serving of walnuts, which works out to be 14 halves, one handful, or a quarter of a cup, has 100% of the omega 3s you need for the day.
Walnuts can be especially beneficial for people who don’t enjoy fish. Since writing last week’s blog article, I have heard from many of you that walnuts give you canker sores. If this is the case, you could eat chia, hemp, or flax seeds to get your daily dose of omega 3s.
7. Whole Grains
Recently there have been many popular books claiming that the source of all medical problems, including dementia, is from all of the carbohydrates in grains. While refined grains have been shown to hurt brain function, there is no scientific evidence that real whole grains do anything but improve cognitive performance.
The Mediterranean way of eating, of which whole grains are an important component, has consistently shown a decreased risk of dementia. In addition, studies evaluating the risk of dementia in traditional whole grain eating cultures, have also shown decreased risk. It is based on these studies, and many others, that the researchers at Rush University also included whole grains in the science based MIND Diet.
With whole grains, look for grains with minimal to no processing. For those who are gluten sensitive, there are also many options including brown rice, some oats, quinoa, amaranth, etc.
For most of my patients, dementia is more frightening than a heart attack or even a cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, the decisions we make every day play a significant role in determining how well and for how long our brain performs.
What foods have you found that improve brain function? How do you incorporate these “brain foods” into what you eat? Please leave a comment below for our community.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.