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Brain Power: What You Eat Makes a Difference

A healthy diet isn’t just good for your body—it can help build a better brain, too.

Feb 5 2016

Everyone wants brain power. As we age we know the importance of taking care of our bodies, but the brain needs attention, too. The foods you eat can play a critical role in fueling brain power and may even help ward off memory loss and decline. 

Researchers at Abbott and the Center for Nutrition, Learning and Memory (CNLM) at the University of Illinois are studying the connection between food and a healthy brain.

As adults age, their brains’ structure and function begin to decline — seen through decreasing speed and, over time, memory loss. However, certain nutrients can help slow this decline while helping adults stay mentally alert during the workday. For example, some studies have shown that high intakes of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and folate are associated with an improved ability to access and use knowledge. According to Matthew Kuchan, PhD, a discovery scientist and a key contributor to Abbott’s partnership with the CNLM, other nutrients that can slow age-related decline include B and E vitamins.
 

Infographic: Brain Foods - What You Eat Matters

 

 

For older adults, nutrition continues to play a role in brain health and can help ward off memory loss and cognitive decline. For example, a person’s fat intake can impact brain health, as diets high in saturated fat increase the risk for cognitive decline, while those high in monounsaturated fats may support cognitive health.

Good Fats

Bad Fats

Monounsaturated Fat: Found in a variety of foods and oils.

Saturated Fat: Found in animal-based foods, such as red meat and full-fat dairy.

Polyunsaturated Fat: Found mostly in plant-based foods and oils.

Trans Fat: Created through food processing of oils.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish and some plants.

 


Although these findings give researchers hope, more needs to be done to learn how to intervene earlier, Kuchan says. Alzheimer’s disease is expected to grow exponentially over the next few decades. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is projected to grow by 40 percent over the next 10 years, climbing to 7.1 million people. By 2050, the number of people age 65 or older with Alzheimer’s may nearly triple to a projected 13.8 million.

“Memories make us who we are,” Kuchan says. “We’re beginning to understand the impact of nutrition on cognitive function across life stages. And that really brings to life the importance of this research in preserving our memories, and preserving who we are.”