Senior Living Communities at Anthem Memory Care
Return To Blog

Brain Healthy Foods: The Good and the Bad

A lot has been written about the effect that different foods have on memory. Some foods are known to boost brain power and keep Alzheimer’s at bay. Others have actually been linked to Alzheimer’s. And, in some cases, to make things even more confusing, there are differing opinions. Take red meat, as an example. The MIND diet, developed by a nutritional epidemiologist, discourages it. Other medical professionals claim red meat is fine, as long as you eat it with greens and not with white bread.

The bottom line is that there are foods that are good for the brain and also good for overall nutrition. So we’ve scoured the many resources and put together a list of commonly promoted “memory foods”, with a “why” attached to help you make your own decision about what to feed your aging loved ones, and yourself. Here they are:

The “Good” Foods:

  • Blueberries, Blackberries, Strawberries, Plums, Oranges, Red Grapes, Cherries
    They have high levels of antioxidants which, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, help protect the brain against “free radicals”, which are unattached oxygen molecules that can attack cells; much in the same manner that water can cause rust.
  • Cold Water Fish: Halibut, Tuna, Salmon, Mackerel
    They contain omega-3 fatty acids which were found to be linked to improved memory retention, in a well-known University of Maryland study.
    (Note: A newer study, conducted in 2015 and featured in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), found no significant link between omega-3 fatty acids and improved memory. However, the levels of dementia in the test group were already very high, and there were other health issues that raised some question as to the value of this study. Due to this, physicians continue to promote the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.)
  • Spinach, broccoli, cabbage (and other cruciferous vegetables)
    Why? They have high levels of vitamin K as well as being rich in antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin. These chemicals accumulate in the brain, and are known to provide protection against cognitive decline.
  • Coffee, chocolate and cinnamon (in moderation)
    Why? They contain both antioxidants and caffeine. The caffeine not only acts as a stimulant, but it also blocks a chemical called adenosine which keeps the brain pathways clear.
  • Olive Oil (Extra virgin)
    It contains a substance called oleocanthal that helps boost the production of key proteins and enzymes that help break down the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
    (Note: Further research indicates that “early harvest” olive oils are particularly high in oleocanthal and may be even more effective. And, extra virgin olive oil may also help reduce cancer risk and reduce arthritic symptoms.)
  • Coconut Oil (Cold-pressed, Virgin)
    Why? It is a heart-healthy oil that is free of cholesterol and trans-fats, and contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s), which the liver metabolizes into ketones. There is growing evidence that ketones have been shown to improve memory performance in Alzheimer’s patients.

The “Bad” foods:

  • Processed cheeses (American cheese, mozzarella sticks, Cheez Whiz, etc.)
    Why? These foods contain nitrates, which inhibit the amount of insulin produced in the brain. This “diabetes of the brain” has been associated with onset of Alzheimer’s.
  • Processed meats (Bacon, smoked deli meats)
    Why? The accumulation of sodium nitrate, as produced in the smoking process, inhibits the production of insulin in the brain.
  • Beer
    Why? Again, most beers contain nitrates which have been linked to Alzheimer’s.
  • White foods (White bread, pasta, cakes, rice, sugar)
    Why? Consuming these causes a spike in insulin production which can, in turn send toxins to the brain.
  • Microwave popcorn
    It contains a chemical called diacetyl, that may increase amyloid plaques in the brain. A buildup of amyloid plaques has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The bottom line? No eating regimen has yet proven 100% effective in reversing the effects of dementia or Alzheimer’s. However, eating foods such as fresh berries and fish that are known to contain important nutrients for our brains and our bodies will always make good sense!

Contact us to learn more about Anthem Memory Care communities and our nutrition programs.