Seniors: What’s Good for the Heart Is Good for the Brain

When you take healthful eating to heart, it will go to your head, too.
A well-balanced, heart-healthy diet—rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains—reduces plaque build-up in the arteries to deliver a free-flowing stream of oxygen to all parts of the body, including the brain. This boosts mental performance, slows the aging process and lowers the risk of dementia.

Nutritious eating benefits the senior’s brain in many ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Some vitamins—particularly folate and B12—help prevent the inflammation that causes plaque to narrow arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke, which can diminish cognitive function. Folate comes from cooked, dry beans, peas, peanuts, oranges and orange juice, dark-green leafy vegetables like spinach and mustard greens, fortified cereals and enriched grain products. B12 is in salmon, trout, beef, poultry, cheese, eggs and fortified cereals.
  • Antioxidants—such as vitamins A, C and E and nutrients lutein, lycopene and selenium—promote brain health. Good sources include dark-skinned fruits and vegetables. Vegetables include: kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, red bell pepper, onion, corn and eggplant. Fruits high in antioxidants include prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries. Almonds, pecans and walnuts also are good antioxidant sources.
  • Some minerals boost brain function. Iron—from organ meats, beef, pork and most legumes—supports focus and concentration. Zinc—from beef and other meats, oysters, whole-grain bread and soybeans—sharpens verbal memory, helping you recall words.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, halibut, mackerel and tuna, help build gray matter, promoting intellectual performance. WebMD reports that one study found that healthy adults who ate the most omega-3 fatty acids had the most gray matter in brain areas that regulate mood. Among cooking oils, canola and walnut oil, are the best sources of omega-3s. On the other hand, a diet high in saturated fats can raise the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Maintaining a healthy body weight—through healthful diet and exercise—is essential to heart and mind. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that a long-term study of 1,500 adults found that those who were obese in middle age were twice as likely to develop dementia. And those who also had high cholesterol and high blood pressure were six times at greater risk of dementia.

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