Your diet affects everything from your weight to your skin—that’s probably not much of a surprise to hear. But did you know that healthy eating for older adults is one of the best tips for brain health, too? It turns out there’s a significant link between diet and mental health.
According to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, nutrition is now considered to be a key contributor to the prevalence of common mental disorders, such as depression. Therefore, just like healthy eating for older adults is taken into account for issues like weight management, diabetes, endocrinology (conditions related to hormones and glands), and heart disease, the researchers urge that the same should be done when discussing tips for brain health.
The idea of using diet to help keep your brain young is really quite logical. In order for your brain to perform at its optimal capacity, it needs an adequate supply of essential nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and folate, vitamin D, zinc, and iron, to name just a few. Healthy eating for older adults helps to ensure that you’re getting all of these components through your diet, thereby reducing the risk of a nutritional deficiency that can impact cognitive function.
Healthy eating for older adults also work to keep your brain young by reducing the amount of oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, particularly in the central nervous system, which can minimize the risk of developing age-related brain and mental health conditions. It’s no surprise then that a 2013 study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that women who ate a healthy diet in their middle age years were 40% more likely to surpass the age of 70 without developing any mental or physical setbacks, compared to women who ate less-healthy in their younger years. The healthy eaters consumed more plant-based foods, fish, and whole grains, while eating less processed meat, red meat, and alcohol.
The Mediterranean Diet to Help Keep Your Brain Young
The experts behind this latest study cite the Mediterranean diet as an example of how healthy eating for older adults can affect mental health. The Mediterranean diet typically includes lots of fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish. This particular eating style has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cognitive impairment, but a recent 2015 study found that it can improve mental health, too.
The study’s findings, which were published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, showed that those participants (average age of 67) who followed a Mediterranean diet that was supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts for four years performed better on tests for thinking and memory, compared to the participants who only stuck to a low-fat diet.
This research reinforces the findings from a 2009 study in the journal JAMA Neurology (formerly known as Archives of Neurology), which showed that a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment. For participants who had already developed mild cognitive impairment, the diet reduced the risk of that impairment progressing into Alzheimer’s disease.
8 Tips for Brain Health
As you can see, there’s no shortage of evidence to show how healthy eating for older adults can help keep the brain young. The following are a few easy ways to implement the Mediterranean diet along with a few other tips for healthier eating:
• Use herbs to flavor food instead of salt
• Cook in olive oil instead of margarine or butter
• Instead of red meat as the main course, switch to grilled fish (try salmon or tuna) at least twice a week
• Include vegetables in every meal
• Precut your fruit and vegetables so that they’re easier to grab and go (you’re more likely to eat something if it requires minimal prep time, so might as well get it all ready at once)
• Snack on nuts and seeds (try adding natural dried fruit to make your own healthy trail mix)
• Switch to whole grain bread, rice, and pasta, and experiment with more non-conventional grains, such as barley and quinoa.
• Make fruit your dessert of choice—sprinkle it with honey to make it extra sweet.