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Memory Spring Monthly

What is the Right Diet to Improve Your Memory and Brain Health?

Nutrition
 
  
There is a plethora of information on the internet related to foods and supplements that can improve your memory. While a strong case can be made for many of those recommendations, there is new data showing that the best medicine might be a heart healthy diet.
 
A Recent study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital  showed that women who ate the most saturated fats from foods such as red meat and butter performed worse on memory and thinking tests than women who ate the lowest amount of these fats. This study supports other data that links heart healthy diets to improved brain health and memory.
 
While there are many theories on why heart healthy diets have an impact on memory performance and brain health, the most commonly held belief is related to cholesterol levels in the body. 
 
Consuming foods high in saturated fats and trans-fats promotes cholesterol buildup in the body.  The cholesterol buildup in our arteries makes it tougher for our heart to pump oxygen-rich blood to the various part of our body, including the brain.  While the brain is only about 2% of your total body weight it requires 15-20% of your blood supply to run optimally. So when your heart is struggling, your memory and brain health struggles too.  In addition, cholesterol increases promote the development of plaque buildup in brain’s blood vessels which can damage brain tissue, either through small blockages that cause silent strokes, or a larger, more catastrophic stroke. Either way, brain cells are deprived of the oxygen-rich blood they need to function normally, which can compromise thinking and memory.
  
What can you do to get on the road towards a heart-healthy diet? Here are the Mayo Clinic’s 8 steps to get yourself moving towards a heart-healthy diet.  
 
1. Control your portion size
Paying attention to your portion size is extremely important in developing a hearth healthy diet.  Most of us eat significantly more than the recommended portion size at any given meal.  We’re used to eating until we’re stuffed versus the right amount for us. Part of the issue is that we’re used to eating until we’re no longer hungry. Unfortunately, it takes our brain 15-20 minutes after we’ve eaten to register meal satisfaction. In addition, we’re conditioned to accept restaurant portions as a normal portion. Portions served in restaurants are often significantly more than a serving size. Keep track of the number of servings you eat — and use proper serving sizes — to help control your portions.  A serving size is a specific amount of food, defined by common measurements such as cups, ounces or pieces. For example, one serving of pasta is 1/2 cup, or about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of meat, fish or chicken is 2 to 3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards. Judging serving size is a learned skill. You may need to use measuring cups and spoons or a scale until you're comfortable with your judgment. Click here for more information on proper serving sizes.
 
2. Eat more vegetables and fruits
There is significant data that shows the importance of fruit and vegetables play in memory improvement and heart health. They are great sources of vitamins and mineral.  Vegetables and fruits are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. In most cases fruits and vegetables also help you eat less high-fat foods and snack foods which can help you maintain or lose weight. 
To make it easier to integrate fruits and vegetables in your diet wash and pre-cut them. Store them in areas in your fridge where they’re easy to see.  In addition, keeping a fruit bowl in your kitchen keeps the fruits and vegetables top of mind. Click here for more strategies on integrating fruits and vegetables into your diet.
 
3. Select whole grains
According to the USDA, whole grain foods are those foods that are made from the entire grain seed, usually called the kernel, which consists of the bran, germ, and endosperm. Eating whole grains is a great way to improve your heart health,  regulate your blood sugar and add fiber to your diet. Substituting your normal white rice or potatoes with whole grains such as brown rice, couscous, or barley will get you on the right track with whole grains. Click here for more strategies on integrating whole grains into your diet. 
 
4. Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol
Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. Many of us struggle with this one because we want convenience, flavor, and satisfaction all of which high fat and high cholesterol foods tend to provide. We’re comfortable grabbing those potato chips or adding a heaping amount of butter to our bread or foods. We love those foods that give us comfort and make us feel good. Unfortunately they tend  to be filled with ingredients that don’t necessarily help our heart. 
 
Start by reducing the butter, margarine, and shortening that you add to your food when cooking and serving.  Second, see if you can find low fat substitutions. For instance use salsa or low fat yogurt on your baked potato instead of butter and sour cream. Third, choose the good fats such as olive oil or canola oil when you need fats for cooking. Fourth, add nuts and seeds to your diet.  They are great substitutes for chips or other high fat foods and they contain fiber and essential oils that are great for your heart. Click here for more information on reducing unhealthy fats in your diet.
 
5. Choose low-fat protein sources
Beef and pork have long been staples of the American diet. Unfortunately, those proteins tend to be high in fat and cholesterol.  Poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products are great low-fat sources of protein. Also, making the right choice plays into it too. Such as skim milk rather than whole milk and skinless chicken breasts rather than fried chicken patties. Legumes — beans, peas and lentils — also are good sources of protein and contain less fat and no cholesterol, making them good substitutes for meat. If you have to have meat, choose the leanest cuts such as top sirloin, tenderloin, or top round. Click here for more information on better low-fat protein choices.
 
6. Reduce the sodium in your food
Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. Unfortunately, sodium is integrated into almost everything we eat.  It is used for a number of things including flavor enhancement, food preservative, texture enhancer, color enhancer, and a binding agent.  It has also been known to  contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for  cardiovascular disease. Most adults should limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day.  Once you’re in your 50s it should be limited to 1,500 milligrams per day. 
A good first step to reducing sodium in your diet is to reduce your consumption of canned or processed foods.  They are loaded with sodium.  Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews will go a long way in reducing your sodium intake.  Choose low sodium options when you do have to use prepared foods. Click here for more strategies on reducing your sodium intake. 
 
7. Plan ahead: Create daily menus
Planning is a vital function that gives you control in your decision making and diet.  Planning provides you with a framework to help you say “yes” to your healthier options and “no” to unhealthy ones. Planning your meals helps you eat right and ensures variety in your meals. Planning not only helps with your health but also your wallet. Without a plan we tend to purchase extra food that goes to waste or spoils. Click here for assistance with building a meal plan. 
 
8. Allow yourself an occasional treat
Total elimination is not good for anyone. Allow yourself an indulgence every now and then. You will get significant pleasure from your favorite chocolate or salty snack and it won’t upset your heart-healthy diet. Just don’t use it as an excuse to end your health improvement plan. What's important is that you eat healthy foods most of the time.
 
Incorporate these eight tips into your life, and you'll go a long way towards helping your heart, your brain health, and your memory.  For more information, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us at 530-297-6464.
 
 
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