So you’ve become a regular at the gym, turned vegan, and done almost everything in your power to stay physically healthy. What about staying mentally fit as well? Mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental fitness protects us from depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases.
Neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Mosconi, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York claims we can prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia through healthier food and lifestyle choices. In her new book Brain Food: How to Eat Smart and Sharpen your Mind, Mosconi says that while genetics plays a key role in causing dementia, lifestyle factors, like diet, are just as crucial.
- Maintain your sugar levels — Our brain depends mainly on glucose (sugar) and needs 62 grams of glucose daily. Before you grab that extra-large pizza though, Mosconi says our brains’ ‘sugar gates’ open when it needs sugar, but shuts down once it’s had enough. Excess glucose can’t enter the “sugar gate.” Instead, it leads to high blood sugar levels and weight gain.
- Know how your nutrients interact — Nutrients in your body should interact with each other. Make sure you get a balance of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and vitamin B.
- Have plant-based meals — Our vegetarian ancestors knew it all along. Plant-based foods are the best. In fact, 98 percent of those who live long, healthy and dementia-free lives are vegans.
- Choose organic food well — You can also save on costs by choosing fruits that are in season. You can also opt for wild fish over the farmed variety, since the former tends to have less pollutants and pesticides.
- Always eat breakfast — Breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day, because the brain needs an energy source in the morning. This means fresh fruit, whole grains, and lean protein.
- Go for red wine — Because it is rich in the antioxidant resveratrol, red wine protects our brains and helps us live longer. Mosconi advises women to take a small glass of wine a day for brain health. Organic pomegranate juice, grape juice, and prune juice are good substitutes.
- Try fasting overnight — Research shows that cutting down on calories enhances cognitive capacity and help you lives longer. Brain cells grow stronger when hungry, so skip that midnight snack and try overnight fasting. This means taking a 12-to-16-hour break from food between dinner and breakfast.
- Take a cue from ‘blue zones’ — These are regions around the world with the highest number of centenarians. Indians, who consume brain-protective food like spice turmeric, are not as prone to Alzheimer’s than Americans are. The latter are eight times more prone to the disease than their Indian counterparts. People living in Mediterranean countries also live longer because of a diet rich in wild greens like dandelions, legumes, beans and potato, fish and olive oil and an occasional cheese and red wine.
- Stick to traditional cookware — Mosconi suggests stainless steel, glass and ceramic, not aluminium, plastics, and synthetic cookware with Teflon surfaces since they may have a compound (polytetrafluoroethylene) that can endanger brain health.
- Take time to sleep — Studies show that adults who slept less than five hours a night showed higher levels of Alzheimer’s plaques in the brain than those who slept more than seven hours. Sleep gives the brain time to clear toxins and flush waste products away.
- Keep a glass of water by your bed — Drinking eight to ten cups of water a day can boost brain performance by 30 percent. A glass of water when you wake up makes you feel more awake and able to think better.
Our brain needs all the help it can get. Let’s help it stay healthy — whether we’re asleep or awake.