New research from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in America suggests that certain types of fat are associated with worse memory and overall cognitive function.
While we’ve known for years that eating too many foods containing ‘bad fats’, such as saturated fats or trans fats, isn't healthy for your heart, a study published online today by the Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society, associated one particular bad fat - saturated - with worse overall cognitive function and memory in women over time.
By contrast, mono-unsaturated fat, was associated with better overall cognitive function and memory.
The research team analysed data from the Women's Health Study, focused on a subset of 6,000 women, all over the age of 65.
The women participated in three cognitive function tests, which were spaced out every two years for an average testing span of four years. These women filled out very detailed food frequency surveys at the start of the Women's Health Study, prior to the cognitive testing.
"When looking at changes in cognitive function, what we found is that the total amount of fat intake did not really matter, but the type of fat did," explained Olivia Okereke of the BWH Department of Psychiatry, in a statement.
Women who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fat, which can come from animal fats such as red meat and butter, compared to those who consumed the lowest amounts, had worse overall cognition and memory over the four years of testing.
Women who ate the most of the monounsaturated fats, which can be found in olive oil, had better patterns of cognitive scores over time.
"Our findings have significant public health implications," said Okerekem in a statement. "Substituting in the good fat in place of the bad fat is a fairly simple dietary modification that could help prevent decline in memory."
Okereke notes that strategies to prevent cognitive decline in older people are particularly important. Even subtle declines in cognitive functioning can lead to higher risk of developing more serious problems, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Avocados are a great source of 'healthy fats' as well as a good blood circulation booster. This is important when it comes to brain power, as it enhances the blood flow to the brain, maintaining healthy brain function.
The essential omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish like sardines, herring, trout and mackerel, as well as walnut oil and flaxseeds (linseeds) - are high in Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a fatty acid crucial to maintaining a healthy nervous system. Low DHA levels have been linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and memory loss. Fish also contains iodine, which is known to improve mental clarity. For brain and heart health, eat two servings of fish weekly.
Whole grains improve circulation and help regulate glucose levels in the blood as the steadier the glucose levels, the easier it is to concentrate. This is why it's important to eat breakfast in the morning, as it not only revs up the metabolism, but keeps your sugar levels balanced as well as protecting against diabetes and heart disease.
Sugar is the brain's preferred fuel source, however before you reach for the table sugar, it's glucose that your body needs. The body metabolises glucose from the sugars and carbohydrates in food. That's why a glass of something sweet offers a short-term boost to memory, thinking processes, and mental ability. Too much sugar on the other hand, can result in impaired memory, so go easy on the sweet stuff and consume enough to boost your brain power.
Like sugar, caffeine perks up the brain but if you have too much, it can have negative effect on your mental state. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up feeling. But beware, the effects are short-term and if you overdo it, the brain can go into overdrive and make you more jittery than sharp thinking.
Nuts and seeds are great sources of antioxidant vitamin E, which is associated with less cognitive decline as you age. A good intake of vitamin E is linked to preventing poor memory. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E along with leafy green vegetables, seeds, eggs, brown rice and whole grains. Pumpkin seeds are especially good for boosting brain power, as a handful a day is all you need to get your recommended daily amount of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills.
Blueberries and strawberries contain antioxidants, which are thought to protect brain neurons from damage, build communication receptors between each brain cell, and flush out waste. They also help protect against age-related diseases like Alzheimer's. Blackberries are also a great brain booster, as it contains Vitamin C which has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility.
An unlikely contender, the humble sage has long had a reputation for improving memory. Although its recommended to try sage oils, try and sprinkle some sage into your diet.
Folic acid and vitamin B12 help prevent homocysteine from building up in the body, which is higher in those with Alzheimer's. Vitamin B, C, E, beta-carotene, and magnesium are also good vitamins to stock up on when looking to boost brain power.
Tomato's contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer's.
A great source of vitamin K, broccoli which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.