4 simple “swaps” for a stronger brain
By Dr. Julie Schwartzbard, MD
We’ve all had those moments of losing our train of thought mid-conversation. Or
frantically searching for our car keys, only to find them already in our pocket.
It’s tempting to call these minor memory lapses “senior moments.” But the truth
is aging itself is generally not a cause of significant cognitive decline.
And here’s another key fact that is surprising but true: you can maintain and sometimes
your brain function. And all you need to do is make a handful of
very simple diet and lifestyle changes — “swap” your old habits for new ones.
Swap #1: Eat more fish, less red meat
Your taste buds may love a good steak, but your brain seems to have a different
opinion. According to an analysis of 6,000 women over the age of 65, women with
diets high in saturated fats — like those found in red meat — had the worst changes
in their cognitive function and memory over time.
And, to go a step further — although fish is better than meat, the latest data suggests
that all forms of animal protein can contribute to worsening brain function. That
means the vegan diet is probably the most healthful for the brain.
If you do switch to fish, it also contains beneficial amounts of
omega-3 essential fatty acids, an important ingredient for healthy brain
and nerve cell formation. Omega-3s can help with issues related to chronic brain
inflammation, including depression, anxiety, brain fog and even dementia.
Swap #2: Go nuts
Monounsaturated fats support the production of acetylcholine, the memory and learning
brain chemical. Olive oil, avocados and nuts — including top picks macadamia nuts,
pecans, hazelnuts, almonds and almond butter — are all rich sources of monounsaturated
fats and easy swaps when you’re trying to limit saturated fats like butter and cheese.
Swap #3: Ditch the screens and get more sleep
When you sleep, your brain enters into a sort of “rinse cycle” to clear out cellular
waste and other toxins that have built up during your waking hours.
When you don’t get enough sleep and your brain is unable to complete its nightly
cleanup, you feel it the next day as fatigue and fogginess. Chronic sleep deprivation
also impedes brain neuron function, making you more prone to memory lapses.
If you suffer from sleep troubles, try ditching screens in the hours before bedtime.
Smartphones, tablets, laptops and all those other devices we love to use 24/7 emit
a frequency of blue light that disrupts production of the sleep-inducing hormone
melatonin — making it harder for you to fall asleep.
Instead, adopt sleep-friendly bedtime habits such as taking a warm bath, drinking
a cup of chamomile or valerian tea, and turning the lights down low — or completely
off. Darkness helps boost melatonin production.
Swap #4: Satisfy your sweet tooth with berries
Eating a diet high in refined sugars and carbohydrates can lead to poorer memory
and cognitive decline. So for the sake of your brain, it’s time to cut down on pastries,
sodas and the high sugar content of processed foods. (Your waistline will thank
To ease the transition from refined sugars, boost your intake of berries — blueberries,
strawberries, blackberries, raspberries. All kinds! They’re naturally just sweet
enough, and berries burst with flavonoids, a group of potent antioxidants that protect
brain cells from oxidative damage. Research suggests that flavonoids can improve
memory and learning, and protect overall cognitive function.