What you eat affects how you thinks and feel

Feeding the Aging Mind: What Foods Keep Your Mind Sharp?

YOUR DIET CAN SLOW THE PROCESSES OF AN AGING MIND AND HELP KEEP YOUR MIND SHARP

This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

Do you fear living with an aging mind more than an aging body? I do, so I’m always ready to learn more about ways to keep my mind sharp right up until my body wears out. The good news is the right diet can help keep both shape.

What Happens to as Our Brain’s Age?

The brain’s billions of neurons “talk” to one another through neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters send signals along the pathways in our brain and central nervous system. Neurons that can’t get their messages through the pathways are like cell phones that can’t get their signals through to other cell phones.

This inability of neurons to communicate effectively is responsible for most of the loss of mental function as we age.

Although people naturally lose brain cells throughout their lives, the process does not necessarily accelerate with aging. Chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes do, however, accelerate it.

The big concern today is that we are living longer, so want those neurons to last longer. Some groundbreaking research offers hope. While it was long-believed that the central nervous system, which includes the brain, was not capable of regenerating itself, studies have found the brain is capable of making new neurons well into old age, but at a slower rate.

It’s More Than Antioxidants

The antioxidants in foods have been credited with helping to save our aging brains. I’m sure you’ve seen those lists of the latest and greatest “superfoods” ranked for their antioxidant capacity. But what those lists don’t reveal is that the brain doesn’t get charged up by just one or two antioxidants found in blueberries or kale, it wants whole foods.

That is why our total diet is so important. There are compounds in the foods we eat that nutrition scientists have not yet measured and named. But it is clear those compounds have benefits beyond what we get from the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that have been identified. So our best bet for optimal nutrition is to eat a wide variety of minimally processed foods.

Foods That Feed the Aging Mind

Fruits & Vegetables: The more the better when it comes to raising the antioxidant levels of the blood. Keep fresh, frozen, dried, canned and 100% juice on hand to make it easier to have some at every meal and snack.

Beans & Lentils: They can take the place of meat at any meal or be used as a side dish with it. The big assortment of canned beans offers a way to have a different bean every day for weeks.

Nuts: Whether you like walnuts, almonds, pistachios or a mixed assortment is fine. Try using them as a crunchy topping on hot and cold cereals, salads, yogurt, and vegetables.

Fish: Keep the cost down with canned tuna, salmon and sardines and the right servings size. Just two 3-ounce servings a week are recommended.

Brewed tea: Green, black, white and oolong teas all come from the same plant and are rich in powerful antioxidants. Brewing your own from teabags or leaves you get the most benefit.

Constipation is a sign there may not be enough fiber in your diet.

Which Foods and Fibers Can Prevent Constipation?

PLANT FOODS CONTAIN NATURAL FIBERS THAT HELP PREVENT CONSTIPATION

You know it if you have it, but to get a proper diagnosis of constipation you must experience two or more of these problems for at least three months:

  • Two or fewer bowel movements a week
  • Hard stools more than 25% of the time
  • Straining or excessive pushing during bowel movements more than 25% of the time
  • Incomplete emptying of the bowels at least 25% of the time

What Does a Healthy Colon Do?

The colon is the last 5 feet of the intestinal tract. It is also known as the large intestines in contrast to the other 20 feet which are referred to as the small intestines. The functions of the colon are to:

  • Serve as a storage area for the waste material from within our bodies and from undigested food
  • Extract excess water from the waste material
  • Expel the waste material as a soft mass on a regular basis

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation can happen to anyone occasionally and usually does not require any treatment if it lasts just a few days. If constipation is a reoccurring problem or persists for several months, then medical attention is recommended. The most common causes of constipation are:

  • Inadequate fluid and fiber intake
  • Inactivity or immobility
  • Some medicationsantacids with calcium or aluminum, strong pain medications, antidepressants, iron supplements
  • Lack of or changes in your daily routine
  • Over use of laxatives or stool softeners
  • Other medical conditions – irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, colon cancer, depression, eating disorders, pregnancy, stress

How Can Dietary Fiber Help?

By definition, dietary fiber is all of the non-digestible parts of the plant foods we eat. Since anything that we cannot digest must be eliminated, the more fiber-rich food we consume, the more likely our bowels will empty on a regular basis.

The Institute of Medicine set the Adequate Intake (AI) for total dietary fiber at 25 grams a day for adult women and 38 grams a day for men.

One of the best sources of dietary fiber to prevent constipation is wheat bran. Every gram of wheat bran eaten generates about a 5 gram increase in fecal weight due to the water it binds. A half-cup serving of All-Bran®cereal contains 10 grams of wheat bran fiber, so it could increase fecal weight by 50 grams or 1 ¾ ounces.

Whole grains are another important source of dietary fiber. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that half the grain foods we eat should be whole grains. For adults that means at least 3 servings of whole grains a day, which supply another 6-12 grams of fiber.

Beans are the best source of dietary fiber in the vegetable kingdom. One half cup of cooked beans has 6-7 grams of fiber. Most other fruits and vegetables have between 2-3 grams of fiber per serving. Making sure you eat 3 cups of beans per week and the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day will provide all the rest of the fiber you need.

What changes can you make to increase the high fiber plant foods you eat each day?

Daily protein requirements can come from plant and animal sources.

Getting Enough Protein From the Foods You Eat

Protein is available from plant and animal sources

If you read my November 4, 2011 post, Protein in the Diet – How Much is Enough?, then you should have a good idea of how many grams of protein a day you need at your current age, level of activity and state of health. Now let’s see how you can make the best food choices to deliver those 50-150 grams of protein a day.

What foods provide the best protein?

That’s really a trick question since all sources of protein are equally beneficial to the body. It was once believed that the protein from animal sources was better because it contains all of the essential amino acids, but that myth has been laid to rest. Protein from both plants and animals provide everything we need to stay healthy as long as we eat enough of it. And there is no need to combine certain foods at a meal to create “complete proteins,” either. Your body collects all of the amino acids from all of the food you eat so it can recombine them to make the new proteins you need.

How much protein is in a serving?

This is where it helps to know what the standard serving sizes look like for foods in each food group. ChooseMYPlate.gov provides detailed explanations of that. Using those serving sizes and the number of servings per day recommended in the 2000 calorie/day food plan in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, here’s where your protein would come from:

Daily Servings/Food Group Grams of Protein

2 cups Fruit 0 – 2

2 ½ cups Vegetables 4 – 8

6 oz. Grains 12 – 18

5 ½ oz. Meat, Beans, Nuts 32 – 38

3 cups Dairy 24

TOTAL PROTEIN 72 – 90 grams

The ranges vary for each group since some foods are higher in protein than others within each group. But worth noting is that if you choose the higher protein foods from the vegetable and grain groups you can get as many as 26 grams of protein a day from those sources in your diet.

You can also include more plant proteins by selecting the beans, nuts and seeds options from the “meat” group. Doing so gives you all the other benefits they come packaged with, like fiber and phytonutrients, without the saturated fat and cholesterol that comes with the protein found in most animal foods.

Bottom line: You do not have to count on just the meat and dairy foods to get all the protein you need.

Super foods are not enough for a healthy diet

Are Super Foods the Key to a Healthy Diet?

Quality and variety are essential for good nutrition

The battle of the super foods has always fascinated me. We live on a planet with more than 390,000 plant species, many of them edible but never sampled, yet there are some who think they have figured out what the Top 10 Super Foods are that we should eat for good nutrition.

I don’t buy it and never did. Any time you limit your diet to a top 10 food list, no matter how virtuous, you are losing the value of variety.

Eating a wide variety of foods is one of the basic tenets for a healthy diet. This means you should spread out your choices over all food groups and within each one, while also switching it up with the seasons. For example, if you like apples, it’s a good idea to buy some from New York State as well as Washington and swop out a Cortland for a Crispin or a Cameo occasionally, too.

That said, eating an apple a day is not the goal. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we eat 3-4 servings of fruit every day. That’s 1 ½ – 2 cups of fruit 365 days of the year. Most Americans don’t even come close to meeting that goal.

A 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control found that in no state were U.S. adults eating the recommended 3-4 servings of fruit a day and only 32.5% were consuming fruit two or more times a day. Debating whether blueberries or pomegranates should hold first place on this year’s super food list is a distraction from the more important issue that most Americans simply need to eat more fruit!

Eating fruit in any form can help close the gap. Fresh fruit is fine when available and affordable, while frozen fruit offers year round value. Canned fruit in unsweetened juice provides convenience and cost savings every day of the week, and dried fruit offers economy of space as well. And what could be easier than drinking a cup of 100% fruit juice once a day?

My strategy has been to always include a serving of fruit as part my breakfast and lunch, then have another as an afternoon snack. Even if I’m traveling, I can always get a glass of juice on a plane or in a bar and buy some trail mix with dried fruit in any convenience store. When the fruit bowl is empty at home, I always have berries in the freezer for my yogurt, mandarin orange segments in the pantry to toss into a salad and sundried tomatoes to snack on.

Something as basic as eating more fruit can result in dramatic changes in the quality of your diet. You’ll benefit not only from all of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients you’ll be consuming, but also because of all the other stuff you won’t be.

Why not keep a list of the different types of fruit you eat over one year to see if you can come up with 100? That’s a as a super food list I’d really like to see!

http://www.robynflipse.com/images/articles/HGS-Super-Foods.jpg