It’s no secret that the foods you eat have a direct effect on your physical health, but research also suggests that your diet can have a critical impact on your mental health as well. According to Harvard Health Blog:
“Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress.”
The flip side to this fact is that poor nutrition can have a negative effect on your brain, causing increasingly impaired function as time progresses. Here’s what you need to know about how nutrition can impact brain health, and what you can do to optimize your food choices for a longer and healthier life.
The Good and Bad — Food for Thought
The article from Harvard Health Blog noted that poor food choices can increase both inflammation and oxidative stress. These factors, along with a “build-up of plaques in the brain,” says Alzheimers.Net, can speed cognitive decline and lead to Alzheimer’s.
Those less than ideal food choices include a long list of items, chock full of refined sugars, saturated fats, and cholesterol, like white bread, white flour, white rice, pastas, white sugar, processed foods and meats, and foods containing diacetyl or nitrates.
In addition to contributing to brain tissue injury and exacerbating memory loss, those poor food choices can increase the severity of mood disorders like depression, which, in turn, can further impact overall mental health.
The obvious counter to these ill effects is a healthy, balanced diet, which includes a variety of “vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods,” says the Alzheimer’s Association. So-called “brain foods” contain beneficial compounds like Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, which help slow cognitive decline and sustain brain function.
Healthy Eating and Memory Care
To make life for a loved one with memory loss easier, you should try to incorporate plenty of healthy food options and a few tips that will enhance the quality of their mealtime. These include:
- Keeping mealtime basic by using only the necessary utensils (no distracting decorations) and eating in a quiet environment away from the television or radio. You’ll also want to limit food choices to one or two options to avoid confusion, and serve only one dish at a time should you have more than one.
- Making it easy for your loved one to distinguish between their food, plate, and table by using a setting with simple, contrasting colors (no designs or patterns).
- Incorporating specialized utensils during mealtime that can help minimize spills and make it easier for a loved one with Alzheimer’s to eat on their own. Alternatively, serving finger foods will supplant the need for some utensils, making meals less of a struggle.
- Doing your prep work by ensuring that food is ready to eat the moment it’s served. Alzheimer’s can negatively impact the ability to determine if food is too hot to consume, so testing it beforehand can help avoid potential issues.
- Remembering that mealtime shouldn’t be a rush. Individuals with Alzheimer’s can sometimes take a while to chew and swallow their food properly, and you should remain mindful and considerate of this fact.
Additionally, you’ll want to make meals a social affair whenever possible. By eating and talking as a group, you can help stimulate your loved one’s memory and create a more positive eating experience for them.
At the Cottages, we understand the importance of mealtime and how it can positively affect individuals suffering from memory impairment. We invite you to contact us to learn more about how our memory care and assisted living options can benefit your family.