1. Go Mediterranean
A large body of very solid research shows that a classic "Mediterranean diet" — heavy in olive oil, legumes, fish, fruits and green leafy vegetables — protects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The link between the diet and brain health has been less conclusive — but that's changing.
Last year, researchers at Columbia University in New York and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine reported in Archives of Neurology that older adults who followed a Mediterranean diet had less of the kind of damage to the brain's small blood vessels that leads to a slowdown in mental quickness.
Previous studies by the same researchers found that the diet helped slow the onset of Alzheimer's disease, even in those who had only followed it occasionally.
Then early this year, in the New England Journal of Medicine, Spanish scientists who had followed for five years more than 7,000 older adults at high risk for heart disease reported that those who ate a Mediterranean-style diet, including olive oil and a daily glass of red wine, showed about a 30 percent drop in heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease, compared with a control group who ate more or less what they'd always eaten.
"As we age, the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of the strokes and ministrokes that lead to Alzheimer's pathology," says Rudolph E. Tanzi, M.D., a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of Genetics and Aging Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. "The rule of thumb," he says, is "what's good for your heart is good for your brain."
Tip: Go fish! Cold-water fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy fat linked to lower levels of beta-amyloid plaques (a sign of Alzheimer's). Omega-3s also boost the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), the protein that acts as fertilizer for the brain and is responsible for ramping up memory, mood and alertness.
Opt for a 4-ounce serving of salmon, Atlantic mackerel, sardines or herring, two or three times a week. But go light on fish that are high in mercury, such as bluefish and swordfish. To find more fish that are high in omega-3s and low in contaminants, visit the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector.
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