Do you worry about brain disease? It seems everyone knows someone that’s been affected by stroke, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Eating for a healthy brain is important to me since my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Not only for his sake – nutrition plays a significant role in the progression of Parkinson’s – but also for my brain health and of those around me.
A healthy diet can reduce risk of brain stroke by reducing cholesterol and blood pressure while also improving blood flow and antioxidant capacity. Increasing evidence indicates a healthy diet could also help prevent Alzheimer’s.
Regular intake of fiber and antioxidant-rich foods is the best prevention against brain disease. Fiber and antioxidants are naturally concentrated in whole plant foods. Plant foods contain 64 times more antioxidants than animal foods, making the case again for a plant-based diet.
Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is cut off depriving the brain of oxygen, usually because of cholesterol-filled plaques in our arteries but sometimes when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain. It might last only a moment, but silent strokes can multiply and reduce cognitive function until dementia develops. The goal is to reduce the risk of both massive strokes and mini-strokes.
Our brain is about 2% of our body weight but can consume up to 50% of the oxygen we breathe. In Alzheimer’s, cholesterol plaques develop in the brain tissue, narrowing the arteries in the brain. This reduces blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Some experts suggest Alzheimer be reclassified as a vascular disorder.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s; but it might be preventable. Reducing cholesterol plaque in the brain might reduce development of Alzheimer’s.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”full” source_author=”Michael Greger MD” source_title=”How to Not Die” full_quote=”Diet and lifestyle changes could potentially prevent millions of Alzheimer cases a year. The journal Neurology of Aging published The 2014 Dietary and Lifestyle Guidelines for the Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease advising that vegetables, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), fruits and whole grains should replace meats and dairy products as primary staples of the diet” short_quote=”Diet and lifestyle changes could potentially prevent millions of Alzheimer cases a year.”]
A healthy diet can reduce risk by:
- reducing cholesterol and blood pressure
- improving blood flow and antioxidant capacity
- decreasing artery stiffness
- preventing blood clots from forming
- reducing inflammation
- preventing the circulation of oxidized fats in the bloodstream that can damage the sensitive walls of small blood vessels in the brain
It’s SO important to teach our children to eat lots of plant foods, giving them a foundation for life. Stroke is considered an old person’s disease, but risk factors may begin in childhood. Researchers found that by the time children were 14, there was clear difference in arterial health or those consuming different amounts of fiber in their daily diets. It doesn’t take much: one more apple, a quarter cup of broccoli, 2 tablespoons of beans a day during childhood can translate into meaningful effect on artery health later in life.
That said, it’s never to late to start eating healthier. Choosing antioxidant-rich, high fiber foods makes a difference.
What to Do?
- Eat more fiber. Fiber is naturally concentrated in whole plant foods. Less than 3% of Americans meet the minimum daily requirement for fiber. Increasing fiber by just 7 grams a day – a bowl of oatmeal with berries or a serving of beans –may be associated with 70% risk reduction. Fiber helps control cholesterol and blood sugar levels which in turn can reduce artery-clogging plaque in brain’s blood cells. Fiber also lowers blood pressure reducing risk of brain bleeds
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables at every meal to continuously flood our bodies with antioxidants to help ward off stroke and other age-related diseases.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”full” source_author=”Michael Greger MD” source_title=”How to Not Die” full_quote=”Those who ate more antioxidant rich foods had the lowest stroke risk. Diets comprised mainly of animal-based foods are low in antioxidant content, while diets based mainly on a variety of plant-foods are antioxidant rich, due to the thousands of bioactive antioxidant phytochemcials found in plants. Supplements don’t appear to help, Mother’ Nature’s powers cannot be stuffed into a pill. ” short_quote=”Those who ate more anti-oxidant rich foods had the lowest stroke risk.”]
- Eat more citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit). Citrus fruit intake is associated with reduced stroke risk; they have a phytochemical that appears to increase blood flow throughout the body, including the brain
- Spice it up, add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon to oatmeal, 1/4 teaspoon of tumeric into salad dressings and food. Toss fresh cilantro or mint into salad. The flavor compounds in herbs (cilantro, mint, parsley etc) and spices (i.e. cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg etc) are powerful antioxidants
- Get more potassium. Potassium-rich foods: greens (spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage), beans and sweet potatoes. Bananas don’t make the list of top 1000 foods with highest levels of potassium
- Replace sodas with iced black, green or herbal teas, Concord grape juice, cranberry and pomegranate juice. Check labels to avoid those with artificial sugars, especially fructose corn syrup
Choosing antioxidant rich, high fiber foods makes a difference to our health and reduces the risk of brain disease.
For more empowerment:
The most powerful tool you have to change your brain and your health is your fork.
Lifestyle changes could potentially prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of Alzheimer’s disease every year in the United States
It is known that a Western diet is associated with dementia — the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are almost identical to those for cardiovascular disease.1 In contrast, higher vegetable and fruit intake is associated with decreased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.