Do you fear living with an aging mind more than an aging body? I do, so I'm always ready to learn more about ways to keep my mind sharp right up until my body wears out. The good news is the right diet can help keep both in shape.
What Happens As Our Brain's Age?
The brain's billions of neurons "talk" to one another through neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters send signals along the pathways in our brain and central nervous system. Neurons that can't get their messages through the pathways are like cell phones that can't get their signals through to other cell phones.
This inability of neurons to communicate effectively is responsible for most of the loss of mental function as we age.
Although people naturally lose brain cells throughout their lives, the process does not necessarily accelerate with aging. Chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes do, however, accelerate it.
The big concern today is that we are living longer, so want those neurons to last longer. Some groundbreaking research offers hope. While it was long-believed that the central nervous system, which includes the brain, was not capable of regenerating itself, studies have found the brain is capable of making new neurons well into old age, but at a slower rate.
It's More Than Antioxidants
The antioxidants in foods have been credited with helping to save our aging brains. I'm sure you've seen those lists of the latest and greatest "superfoods" ranked for their antioxidant capacity. But what those lists don't reveal is that the brain doesn't get charged up by just one or two antioxidants found in blueberries or kale, it wants whole foods.
That is why our total diet is so important. There are compounds in the foods we eat that nutrition scientists have not yet measured and named. But it is clear those compounds have benefits beyond what we get from the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that have been identified. So our best bet for optimal nutrition is to eat a wide variety of minimally processed foods.
Foods That Feed the Aging Mind
Fruits & Vegetables: The more the better when it comes to raising the antioxidant levels of the blood. Keep fresh, frozen, dried, canned and 100% juice on hand to make it easier to have some at every meal and snack.
Beans & Lentils: They can take the place of meat at any meal or be used as a side dish with it. The big assortment of canned beans offers a way to have a different bean every day for weeks.
Nuts: Whether you like walnuts, almonds, pistachios or a mixed assortment is fine. Try using them as a crunchy topping on hot and cold cereals, salads, yogurt, and vegetables.
Fish: Keep the cost down with canned tuna, salmon and sardines and the right servings size. Just two 3-ounce servings a week are recommended.
Brewed tea: Green, black, white and oolong teas all come from the same plant and are rich in powerful antioxidants. Brewing your own tea from teabags or leaves gives you the most benefit.