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Food for thought

Promoting a healthy brain through nutrition

The brain is a powerful organ that requires a lot of energy to function properly. The brain receives its energy through good blood flow, so it makes sense to say what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. Research is beginning to show a connection between the food we eat and brain health. In addition, obesity, high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels have all been linked to increased risk of dementia later in life.

Small, healthy changes over time can positively impact our nutrition and brain health. Rather than a specific “diet” that limits calories or restricts a certain food, we have evidence that shows a lifestyle focused on healthy food choices in moderation is best. The practical steps listed below may have a lasting impact on your brain health.

  • Limit saturated fats. These fats are solid at room temperature (e.g. butter, lard), can build up in our blood vessels and have been linked to increased heart disease risk. But not all fats are bad. Fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil, are mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and are a healthier option (Check out this “Healthy Hummus” recipe in our Healthy Recipes section).
  • Bulk up your diet with foods from plants. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. This doesn’t mean animal products like meat aren’t allowed. Lean proteins are great options to build into the diet each week.
  • Know your health numbers. People who track their weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are more likely to think about how their food choices affect their health. If possible, keep up with these numbers each time you visit the doctor. Managing these numbers through your food choices is a great step toward good brain health.

Healthy changes that last start small and gradually happen over time. It’s never too late to start making healthy changes for good brain function.

Heather Norman, Ph.D., is an assistant extension professor in the School of Human Environmental Sciences at the UK College of Agriculture.

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