There are many nutrition strategies that the Active Ager can implement to augment mental functioning and mental well-being, and decrease the risk for memory impairment, dementia, Alzheimer’s and depression.

Excerpt from Active Aging Nutrition Manual
Tricia Silverman, RD, MBA

There are many nutrition strategies that the Active Ager can implement to augment mental functioning and mental well-being, and decrease the risk for memory impairment, dementia, Alzheimer’s and depression.

  1. Consider following the Mediterranean Diet. Following the Mediterranean Diet may be especially helpful for memory, as well as overall cognitive performance. (The manual contains an overview of the Mediterranean Diet in Chapter 6).
  2. Eat more fish and vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids: Since omega-3 fatty acids are a part of the structure of brain cells, it is no surprise that eating them is associated with brain health. Research has found a that people with lower intake of the fatty acids DHA and EPA have higher rates of depressive disorders. Experts have found that fish consumption may protect against dementia in a dose-related fashion, and unrefined cereal grains are particularly noteworthy for cognitive benefits.
  3. Eat antioxidant-rich food daily. Low intake of antioxidants in the diet, is associated with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, however it is unclear if this intake is the cause or result. A review of antioxidant research found that dietary intake of vitamin C may be helpful in certain parameters of cognitive performance. The same review found that dietary vitamin E may slow the rate of cognitive decline and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Beta carotene rich foods may enhance cognitive functioning.It is important to meet the dietary recommended intake levels of antioxidants, and a multivitamin is indicated if these levels cannot be met through food intake. The best way to ingest antioxidants is through whole foods and not pills or extracts, which may have side effects and contraindications. The combination of natural bioactive components in plant foods appear to have synergistic beneficial health effects compared to when these compounds are isolated.
  4. Consume at least three servings (or more than 200g) of vegetables per day. This has been associated with lower risk of dementia and slower cognitive decline with age. In particular, cruciferous vegetables, legumes, and green leafy vegetables, and especially noteworthy are cabbage, zucchini, squash, broccoli, and lettuce. Garlic and the compound resveratrol may prevent against Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. Resveratrol is found in peanuts, pistachios, grapes, red wine, blueberries, bilberries, cranberries, and cocoa.
  5. Eat unsaturated fats. A higher ratio of mono and polyunsaturated fats compared with saturated fats is associated with a lower risk for mild cognitive impairment, a stage between healthy aging and dementia.
  6. Keep alcohol intake moderate. (Chapter 3 in the manual provides more information on consuming alcohol in moderation)
  7. Ensure adequate intake of B vitamins and Vitamin D, protein, and choline. Researchers have found that those people who consume higher levels of folate, vitamin B6 and B 12 have less late-life depression. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with late-life depression. Dietary protein provides the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to make serotonin, a feel-good chemical in the body that can help with late-life depression. Dietary choline helps to synthesis of acetylcholine in the body, which is a neurotransmitter important for memory. In Alzheimer’s disease, there is a deficit of choline. (The manual includes for important food sources of these nutrients.)
  8. Keep caffeine intake moderate. Research points to a protective role of coffee, tea, and caffeine, which may reduce the risk of cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed to know the best doses. In the meantime, moderation is key. Also, if active agers are having trouble sleeping, then a decrease in caffeine may be warranted. The US Dietary guidelines lists moderate caffeine consumption as a limit of 400 mg per day (3-5 8oz cups of coffee), noting that most of the research on caffeine has been done on coffee.Caffeinated coffee beverages include drip/brewed coffee (12 mg/fl oz), instant coffee (8 mg/fl oz), espresso (64 mg/fl oz), and specialty beverages made from coffee or espresso, such as cappuccinos and lattes. Amounts of caffeine in other beverages such as brewed black tea (6 mg/fl oz), brewed green tea (2-5 mg/fl oz), and caffeinated soda (1-4 mg/fl oz) also vary. Beverages within the energy drinks category have the greatest variability (3-35 mg/fl oz).