People in the developed world have been given the gift of old age. Access to quality health care, plentiful food, and labor-saving tools means that old age doesn’t have to limit your life span. However, there are excesses present in the developed world that can cause problems in the brain, shorten your life, and destroy your cognitive and physical functioning. Moreover, there is no doubt that dietary choices can protect or hurt the brain.
Too Much Sodium
A diet high in salt and junk food can be very hard on your brain. A high intake of sodium can cause you to gain weight and retain water. In addition, high blood pressure puts a strain on your other organs, particularly the kidneys. Our kidneys and livers have to work hard to filter toxins from our blood, so anything we can do to protect them will protect our brains.
The more fat in your food, the easier it is to load it up with excess sugar, salt, and other flavors that actually limit your ability to enjoy subtle flavors. If you’re hitting the candy machine for a chocolate bar or a bag of chips each day, consider a snack fast.
Enjoy a salad with a simple protein, such as baked chicken or salmon for lunch, and have fruit for a snack in the afternoon. Allow your taste buds to remember what unaltered food tastes like.
Too Much Caffeine
Many of us need caffeine to get moving in the morning. However, excess caffeine later in the day can limit our ability to get enough rest to allow the brain to completely refresh before the alarm goes off. Set regular sleeping hours and develop a bedtime ritual. Stop drinking caffeine at noon if you struggle to fall asleep.
Many high-end coffee drinks are also loaded with sugar. You don’t have to completely give up your favorite beverage, but if you’re enjoying them every day, you may lose your ability to enjoy a plain cup of coffee or tea. Again, reduce your consumption until such beverages are a treat.
A diet high in red meats can increase your exposure to toxins from herbicides. Additionally, some studies indicate that those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease have high levels of iron in the tissues of their brain.
Strive to get the Vitamins you need, particularly Vitamin D, but avoid excess iron. If you have a genetic risk of a debilitating brain disease, getting an early diagnosis of Parkinson’s can help you put preventative steps in earlier rather than playing catch-up.
Even if your plate is loaded with healthy foods, overeating can lead to a limited ability to make memory connections. Start each meal with a moment of mindful gratitude. Seek to focus on your meal.
Enjoy the textures and flavors inherent in your food and celebrate each bite. Mindful eating may help you avoid eating too much.
You can increase your ability to eat mindfully with a simple glass of water at your plate. After each bite, set down your fork. Take a sip of water and completely clear your taste buds for the next bite. If you’re enjoying a glass of wine with your dinner, bookend your sip of wine with a drink of water before you pick up your fork.
Too Much Dairy
The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, recommended by the Mayo Clinic is a great way to delay the onset of debilitating brain disease. One of the interesting features of this diet is the limitation of cheese to one serving a week. As cheese is a staple protein source for many who are trying to avoid meat, it’s a good idea to consider other options.
Beans are a staple source of protein in the MIND diet. Consider replacing the cheese on your sandwich with a tablespoon of hummus. This delicious paste is made from chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, and sesame butter. You can find it in most grocery stores or make it at home with a food processor.
Despite all the differences in genetics and habits, aging puts us at risk for degenerative brain disease. While no diet or activity can completely prevent such illness, many of us can delay the onset and severity of brain disease for years. By protecting your brain with early testing, a healthy diet, and exercise, we can avoid a loss of cognitive function.