Feeding the brain

February 21, 2014 08:22 am

Chef Aaron Reynolds prepares lunch Tuesday for residents at the Wildflower Lodge Assisted Living Community in La Grande. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Chef Aaron Reynolds prepares lunch Tuesday for residents at the Wildflower Lodge Assisted Living Community in La Grande. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)

Proper nutrition for the elderly can nourish the brain and even help to ward off dementia 

Lunch is often the largest meal of the day for the elderly, and so it is a great opportunity to introduce foods that nourish the brain and even help a person avoid dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to Expressions Director Kaylena Townsend of Wildflower Lodge.

“Diet is very important in the prevention of the formation of beta amyloid plaque that causes Alzheimer’s disease,” Townsend said during a presentation to a dementia support group that is open to public attendance and meets the first Wednesday of each month at the lodge. “Try to avoid fried foods and foods with empty calories because of the risk factor of developing beta amyloid plaque.”

Instead, Townsend recommends that along with regular exercise, there are nine brain foods that have anti-inflammatory and other essential properties that are beneficial to the health of the brain. Some studies suggest that dementia is linked to long-term inflammation, so a diet of anti-inflammatory foods may be able to delay “age-related cognitive

One of those foods, Townsend said, is dark chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa. This type of dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which increase blood flow to the brain. Low blood flow is prevalent in dementia and stroke patients, so adding sources of flavonoids into the diet will help increase blood flow that nourishes the brain. Flavonoids can also be found in most fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. The more colorful the vegetables and fruit, the higher the level of flavonoids.

A second brain food is red wine, again for its flavonoids and for polyphenolics such as resveratrol. Due to its sugar content, Townsend recommended limiting this food to one glass a day. An alternative to this may be green tea, which contains a flavonoid called catechins.

Townsend also recommended adding clams into the diet because they are rich in B12.

“Researchers found that elderly people with low vitamin B12 levels had more than four times the usual risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “A lot of seafoods are good sources of B12 too.”

Asparagus is the No. 4 brain food and contains folate. 

“People who were folate deficient were 3-1/2 times more likely to develop dementia,” Townsend said. “One cup of asparagus will fulfill nearly 66 percent of your daily folate intake. Citrus fruits, sprouted beans, broccoli and cauliflower also have a lot of folate.”

The fifth brain food is wild salmon, a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and B12, all beneficial in preventing neurodegenerative disorders, according to Townsend. 

People who eat an average of three servings of oily fish like wild salmon a week had almost 50 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia because of the omega-3 fatty acids, Townsend said. Other alternative sources for omega-3 fat are anchovies, sardines and walnuts. 

“A moderate diet of walnuts improves motor and cognitive skills in older people,” Townsend said. “They found that walnuts have a combination of polyphenols, omega-3 fats and other bioactive substances, all beneficial to the brain.”

Cherries is the next recommended brain food. 

“They have flavonoids and also antioxidant compounds that increase blood flow to the brain,” Townsend said.

According to scientists, cherries have anti-inflammatory properties that work like pain medication but without the side effects. Some have found relief for arthritis by eating cherries in their diet on a regular basis. Some alternatives to cherries include blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, which help reduce brain inflammation and oxidative stress on the brain.

Turmeric is No. 8 on the list of brain foods. 

“A study shows that curcumin in turmeric is an effective substance that removes plaque from the brain,” Townsend said.

Turmeric is a strong anti-inflammatory food and is often found in curry dishes as a spice. Adding this spice to your meals throughout the week will give your brain the benefits of an anti-inflammatory and help ward off dementia. Ginger is one alternative to turmeric with similar anti-inflammatory properties.

The apple is the ninth food in the beneficial brain foods group. Apple skins provide Quercetin that protects the brain from the damages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, according to a Cornell University study, Townsend said. Eating apples is beneficial for digestive health, and some studies suggest it may be helpful in reducing risk of cancer. 

Feeding the brain the right foods will go a long way in warding off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, Townsend said.