February is National Heart Health month, and did you know your heart and brain health are directly related? As part of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), researcher Dr. Carol Greenwood and her team have been studying how lifestyle can become a risk factor for dementia, and whether changes to lifestyle – even later in life – can lower that risk.
“Thankfully, we can say that lifestyle, which includes activity and diet, absolutely impacts both the heart and the brain,” explains Dr. Greenwood. Our heart is a chief contributor to making sure the brain receives a healthy flow of blood. Therefore, anything that we can do to maintain a healthy heart will lead to better brain health.
Research shows a definite correlation between diet and cognitive health
It is estimated that 937,000 Canadians will be living with dementia by 2031. But what if you could reduce your risk? Studies have shown that there is evidence that those who adopt a heart-healthy diet seem to have a lower risk of developing dementia.[i]
“Not only can we say that a heart-healthy diet can help people stay in a normal cognitive ranges for a longer period of time,” explains Dr. Greenwood, “but we can also say that diet seems to slow down cases of Mild Cognitive Impairment.”
What’s more, when groups of people with cardiovascular issues improve their lifestyle through diet and activity, that group also experiences improved cognitive function.
What are some ways that you can impact your brain health through diet?
As Dr. Greenwood points out, “studies show that individuals who eat what is commonly referred to as a “Mediterranean diet” – that is, a diet focused on vegetables and healthy fats, seem to lower their risk of developing dementia.” [ii] Here are a few diet choices you can make today to improve both heart and brain health:
1. Make plants the star of your plate
Limit the consumption of meat in favour of a more plant-based diet. Legumes are excellent brain-healthy alternatives to a meat-centered meal.
“We don’t need to abstain from meat,” says Dr. Greenwood, “but we should be relying more on plants than animals overall.”
2. Fish is a brain-food
Do you remember hearing this from parents or grandparents? Well apparently there is a great deal of truth to what we have been told. As Dr. Greenwood explains, in terms of brain-health results, “fish has been flagged as being something quite unique.”
3. Go nuts for nuts
A 2015 study has pointed toward nuts, and particularly walnuts, as a great part of a brain-healthy diet. Try snacking on walnuts during the day, or using a nut butter on your toast for breakfast!
4. Lower your LDL cholesterol with a healthy diet
Stay away from hard animal fat by limiting consumption of meat, and opting to bake your meal instead of frying it. This includes limiting the consumption of animal products such as cheese, eggs and animal fats such as lard. Pastries and confectionaries can contribute to higher LDL cholesterol levels, so be aware!
Try this Brain-healthy recipe: Baked Sundried Tomato Cod
In 30 minutes or less, make a delicious, brain-healthy meal that is high in healthy fats and full of flavour! Click here to access this mouth-watering recipe. Go ahead, try this recipe and let us know what you think.
[i] Hardman, Roy J. et al. “Adherence to a Mediterranean-Style Diet and Effects on Cognition in Adults: A Qualitative Evaluation and Systematic Review of Longitudinal and Prospective Trials.” Frontiers in Nutrition 3 (2016): 22. PMC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4956662/. Web. 18 Dec. 2017.
[ii] Cinta Valls-Pedret, Aleix Sala-Vila, Mercè Serra-Mir, Dolores Corella, Rafael de la Torre, Miguel Ángel Martínez-González, Elena H. Martínez-Lapiscina, Montserrat Fitó, Ana Pérez-Heras, Jordi Salas-Salvadó, Ramon Estruch, Emilio Ros. “Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive Decline: A Randomized Clinical Trial”. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(7):1094–1103. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.1668. Web. 18 Dec. 2017.