VIVIAN TONG/THE VARSITY

A group of scientists at Baycrest Hospital’s Rotman Research Institute recently published a food guide to help people ward off cognitive decline as they age. The guide highlights evidence-based diet recommendations to keep your brain healthy.

The recommendations within the guide are based on randomized trials that showed tremendous benefits for adults aged 50 years and older.

The Brain Health Food Guide notes that “after four months of eating well, study participants performed as if they were nine years younger on tests of reading and writing [speed].”

Individuals with high blood pressure who were on a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet with their caloric intake restricted and performed aerobic exercises regularly had improved neurocognitive performance — especially those with poorer vascular health.

Studies conducted by other researchers found that a Mediterranean diet combined with antioxidant-rich foods was associated with improved cognitive function.

Based on this evidence, the guide emphasizes an “overall pattern of healthy eating” rather than one specific ‘superfood.’ There is no single magical elixir or exotic fruit that will boost your brain power, so beware of misleading claims by so-called ‘health gurus.’

“There is increasing evidence in scientific literature that healthy eating is associated with retention of cognitive function, but there is also a lot of misinformation out there,” warns Dr. Carol Greenwood, co-author of the Brain Health Food Guide and Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences.

In a statement published on the Baycrest Institute’s website, she says that “there is not a lot of evidence about individual foods, but rather classes of foods.” In the guide, readers are encouraged to embrace “balance, moderation and variety.”

Similar to a healthy heart dietary approach, a plant-based diet rich in raw leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, berries, unsalted nuts and beans is prescribed. Foods to limit include any meat — especially red and processed meats — as well as sources of unhealthy fats such as butter and cream cheese.

A complete description of the food guidelines is available on the Baycrest website. It is not surprising that the dietary recommendations for maintaining brain health are similar to those aimed at decreasing cardiovascular disease risks. Longitudinal studies have shown that overall cardiovascular health is associated with improved cognitive performance.    

Genetic factors can predispose a person to age-related cognitive decline. Thankfully, however, some of this is within our own control. Lifestyle factors including diet, sleep, and physical activity have been shown to also improve cognitive functioning in the short-term. So instead of chugging those Red Bulls or pulling an all-nighter just before your exam, you might want to munch on some nuts and get a restful night of sleep.

Our brains are our most important assets and it’s important we keep them healthy. Through this new publication, we may have a better insight on what keeps our brains in peak condition.

PHOTO BY KELLY CONNELLY COURTESY OF BAYCREST HEALTH SCIENCES

PHOTO BY KELLY CONNELLY COURTESY OF BAYCREST HEALTH SCIENCES


Food preparation tips and healthy snack alternatives are also included in the guide:

Choose colour

Include colourful fruits and vegetables in each meal.

Grill, steam, and bake

Avoid deep-frying food.

Stock your kitchen

Buy a variety of dried or canned beans, frozen or canned fish, vegetables, and fruits.

Add beans or legumes

Soups, stews, and stir-fries are healthier with vegetables.

Snack smart

Reach for nuts, fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, and low fat yogurt

Keep hydrated

Drink water or unsweetened beverages.

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