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It’s official: Today’s typical Western diet — laden with salt, sugar, calories and saturated fats — is as bad for our brains as it is for our bodies.
That’s part of the consensus reached by the Global Council on Brain Health, as reported in a recently released paper titled “Brain Food: GCBH Recommendations on Nourishing Your Brain Health.”
The council is a collaborative effort of AARP. It comprises scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts from around the world.
When members met for their “Brain Food” report, they examined how diet impacts brain health in folks age 50 and older. The council combed through, among other research, observational studies and randomized controlled trials that indicate which foods, nutrients and diets improve brain functioning in older folks.
The heart-brain connection
The council concluded, in short, that the best diet for brain health is the same diet prescribed for heart health. The report explains:
“Common conditions influenced by diet — such as elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — harm both cardiovascular and cognitive health. Therefore, a heart-healthy diet is a brain-healthy diet.”
Indeed, the report notes that some recent large studies have found that dementia rates decrease simultaneously with improvements in cardiovascular health.
The recommendations in the report are meant for all healthy adults, but especially folks age 50 and older who have not been diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease.
The best and worst foods for your brain
Members of the Global Council on Brain Health divided their recommendations on specific foods into three groups.
The food group labeled “Encourage” comprises the foods that the experts recommend eating regularly. The report also describes them as “the ‘A-list’ healthy foods.” They are:
- Berries (juice does not count)
- Fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens)
- Healthy fats (such as those found in oils like extra virgin olive oil)
- Nuts (though you should eat them in moderation, as they are high in calories)
- Fish and seafood
The food group labeled “Include” comprises the “B-list” foods, which the council recommends including in your diet. They are:
- Beans and other legumes
- Fruits (in addition to berries)
- Low fat-dairy (such as yogurt)
The foods in the “Limit” group are those that you should, yes, limit. They are:
- Fried food
- Processed foods
- Red meat
- Red meat products
- Whole-fat dairy (such as cheese and butter)
The council does not specify exactly how much of these foods should be eaten or how often. The report describes the foods and groups above as “food guidelines.”
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