6 Must-Have Nutrients For Brain Health
A balanced nutritious diet that includes these six nutrients can help slow the effects of time
You misplace your keys, can’t recall why you walked into a room, or forget the name of someone you just met. Blame it on your shrinking brain. The brain is packed with highly specialized cells called neurons that help you think, learn and remember, as well as billions of other support cells.
Brain cell loss is a natural part of aging but can result in cognitive decline and memory issues. While many factors influence brain health, a nutritious diet that includes these six nutrients can help slow the effects of time.
Make Room for Magnesium
“The brain’s defense mechanism relies on a just-right dose of magnesium,” according to Annie Fenn, M.D., author of “The Brain Health Kitchen: Preventing Alzheimer’s Through Food.” She says, “Magnesium deficiency has been associated with neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”
“The brain’s defense mechanism relies on a just-right dose of magnesium.”
A 2023 study of men and women 40 to 73 years old found that more magnesium was linked to a greater brain volume. Though it’s unclear exactly how magnesium contributed to preserving cognition in this study, the mineral is known for deflecting cell damage and inflammation.
Experts suggest women consume 320 milligrams (mg) of magnesium daily and that men should get 420 mg. Unfortunately, older adults tend to have lower magnesium intake. To make matters worse, the body absorbs less magnesium and loses more with age.
In addition, certain medications that treat reflux disease and elevated blood pressure can deplete magnesium levels in the body. Ask your doctor if your medications affect your magnesium status.
At 156 mg of magnesium per ounce, pumpkin seeds are among the best magnesium foods. Almonds, spinach, peanut butter, black beans and yogurt are good or excellent sources. Though it’s preferable to get magnesium in your diet, the amount of a regular multivitamin can help bridge small gaps in food intake.
Pump Up Protein
The body uses the amino acids in food proteins to produce brain cells, neurotransmitters and other compounds that support brain health. For example, one study that followed more than 77,000 men and women for over 20 years found that more protein was associated with less cognitive decline later in life.
Legumes, fish and lean poultry proved superior in protecting brain function, while processed meat products, including hotdogs, were related to poorer cognition. In another 2023 study involving more than 6,900 people without cognitive impairment or dementia at the start, a greater protein intake protected the brain over time.
“Regularly consuming complete proteins-foods with all of the amino acids your body can’t make is a good strategy for your brain.”
“Regularly consuming complete proteins-foods with all of the amino acids your body can’t make is a good strategy for your brain,” says Barbie Boules, RDN, owner of Barbie Boules Longevity Wellness.
“All animal foods have complete protein and certain plant foods, including soy, quinoa and buckwheat do, too,” Boules adds. Pistachios also offer complete protein.
Protein needs are based on body weight. Generally speaking, three ounces of cooked fish, poultry or lean meat supplies about 20 grams of protein, six ounces of Greek yogurt contains 17 grams, and one whole egg has six grams.
Meeting protein needs can be challenging when you have a small appetite. Further, protein requirements may increase with age. Experts argue that while the suggested protein intake prevents deficiencies, it may underestimate the needs of older adults who don’t process protein as efficiently. Be sure to include lean and low-fat protein foods at every meal.
By Elizabeth M. Ward | July 25, 2023
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