B is for Brain Food

By Susan M. Piergeorge, MS, RDN

Excerpted in part from Susan’s book Boomer Be Well! Rebel Against Aging through Food, Nutrition and Lifestyle, available here.

There’s lots of buzz about brain health. Factors that may play a role in brain health include physical activity, medications, lifestyle and nutrition.

When it comes to exercise, movement is important. Exercise helps to improve circulation as well as increase levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). The current trend of recommended exercise in regards to brain health per week is 150 minutes of moderate activity and weight training twice per week.

Medications may play a role in interfering with key nutrient absorption such as vitamin B12 and magnesium, to name a few. Some of these medications include those for reducing blood cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, stomach acid production, bone loss reduction, birth control pills and antibiotics. Other compounds include alcohol and tobacco.

Staying engaged and learning new activities also helps keep the brain active. Socializing is important as it can stimulate feel good hormones such as serotonin. Changing your routine, brushing your teeth with the alternate hand, learning a new language or taking up a new hobby are a few examples.

On the nutrition front, B vitamins-particularly B1, B3, B6, folate (B9) and B12-are some of the key nutrients involved with brain and neurological health. Magnesium is also important. Foods that have been shown to play a role in mood and memory include fats-particularly omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, turmeric, ginger, apples, coffee, tea and dark chocolate/unsweetened cocoa powder. The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay) style diet has also been linked with reducing inflammation, as well as helping to support brain health (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). It consists of foods with lots of color-dark green, orange, yellow, red, blue/violet, along with lean protein from poultry and fish, whole grains and legumes. Fats from nuts, avocado and olives are also on the menu.

In summary, get moving, try new activities, add foods with lots of color to your meals, and enjoy life!

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