• “The evidence shows that micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals offer the greatest benefit when consumed as part of a balanced diet..." (Getty images)Source: Getty images
What foods should we be eating to maximise our brain health and slow down or delay cognitive decline?
By
Yasmin Noone

22 Feb 2021 - 1:19 PM  UPDATED 1 Mar 2021 - 2:14 PM

Don’t ever underestimate the potential brain power of the food on your plate.

As neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr Sanjay Gupta, says; a healthy diet isn’t just important for weight loss – it’s vital to protect your brain from disease.

Dr Gupta explains the role of diet in reducing your risk of cognitive decline and dementia in his new book, Keep Sharp - Build a Better Brain at Any Age. “What you eat could very well be one of the most influential benefits to your brain health now and in the future,” writes Dr Gupta.

“After all, you eat every day and how your body responds to what you put in your mouth ultimately influences your entire physiology – all the way up to your brain.”

“While there may be some star players, they don’t work as well without the entourage of other ingredients.”

Is there a 'best food' to eat for brain health?

So what foods should we be eating to maximise our brain health and slow down or delay cognitive decline?

Dr Gupta says that from the outset, people must reject the term ‘superfood’. No single food is magical enough to transform our brain health on its own. Instead, Dr Gupta recommends adopting a holistic eating plan that combines a range of healthy foods to secure the brain against assault.

“The evidence shows that micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals offer the greatest benefit when consumed as part of a balanced diet because all those other components in healthy food allow the micronutrients to be well absorbed and do their job better,” Dr Gupta writes.

“While there may be some star players, they don’t work as well without the entourage of other ingredients.”

The best eating plans associated with protective brain health outcomes are plant-based diets that are rich in a rainbow of coloured whole fruits and vegetables (particularly berries and green leafy vegetables) and low in processed sugars, sodium and trans fats (hydrogenated oils).

The diet should also feature controlled portion sizes and include healthy fats from avocados, olive oils and eggs; omega-3 fatty oils from dietary sources like seafood, nuts and seeds; wholegrains and plenty of water.

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Which diet works best to protect our brain?

Dr Gupta identifies the Mediterranean diet as an evidence-based eating plan, linked with better brain and heart health outcomes, that fits the criteria.

“Plenty of other studies have shown that people who adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet enjoy greater brain volume as they age compared to their counterparts who don’t eat that way.”

Dementia Australia also favours the Mediterranean diet as the brain health eating plan of choice to lower your risk of developing dementia.

"Basically, it’s an achievable diet and that’s something that is very important to us.”

“We recommend that people follow the Mediterranean diet, as it’s a style of eating that's rich in vegetables, fruit, good fats, legumes, oily fish and a small amount of red meat,” CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe, tells SBS.

McCabe says that although there are other plant-based diets options, the Mediterranean diet is a winner because of its healthy principles and adaptable scope. “It offers a variety of foods. This means it will be easy to follow and flexible enough to suit many people. Basically, it’s an achievable diet and that’s something that is very important to us.”

In his book, Dr Gupta also hails another diet for its ability to reduce your risk of cognitive impairment: the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet (also known as the MIND diet).

The eating plan combines two diets – the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet that aims to stop hypertension, as it’s believed that what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain. It is characterised by 15 dietary components with a focus on green leafy vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and small amounts of red meat.

Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) studied this diet in 2019, investigating the health and diets of 1220 adults aged 60 and older over 12 years.

The researchers found that the diet was linked to 19 per cent reduced odds of developing clinically diagnosed mild cognitive impairment or dementia. In contrast, no benefit was found for adhering to the Mediterranean dietary pattern.

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Be realistic with your dieting expectations

No matter which healthy, plant-based diet you follow for brain health, there is one caveat.

McCabe warns that there is no such thing as a truly “preventative” diet that can stop you from developing dementia or other cognitive disorders.

Food is only one factor among many (including genetics, exercise, obesity) that influence brain health and cognition.

So she advises that people adopt an overall lifestyle plan that involves eating well, exercising and staying socially connected to lower their risk of dementia or delay the rate of cognitive decline.

“There’s really no guarantee that we can do anything to fully prevent dementia,” she says. “But there is evidence to show that following a healthy diet can reduce your risk.”

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