Maintain Healthful Nutrition

When I encourage my patients to eat a healthy diet, I realize that most everyone has heard it all before. But when I tell them the ways in which some foods are good for the brain—and others are bad for the brain—they are more likely to pay attention.

Walter Willett's marvelous book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy is a concise and persuasive state-of-the-art review of what you need to know to eat healthfully. Dr. Willett deconstructs the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid and replaces it with his Healthy Eating Pyramid; a copy is taped to my refrigerator.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains; obtain healthy fats from fish and nuts. These foods help keep your cholesterol levels in range and your arteries clear. These benefits in turn will decrease your risk of vascular disease and stroke, including strokes of the small "silent" variety that can cumulatively damage brain function. Fruits and vegetables can be beneficial in another way; many are good sources of antioxidants, nutrients that protect against age-related oxidative deterioration throughout the body, as well as B-complex vitamins. B vitamins

Brain Foods

Some foods can protect your memory by helping to prevent diseases that weaken the brain, whereas others can harm your memory by promoting those diseases.

• Foods to eat. Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish. These can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

• Foods to avoid. Minimize your consumption of red meat, whole milk and other dairy products made with whole milk, and processed or packaged foods. These foods increase the risk of hypercholesterolemia, heart disease, and stroke.

are also found in whole-grain foods, rice, nuts, milk, eggs, meats, and fish.

Minimize your consumption of foods containing saturated fats or trans fats, which promote atherosclerosis, the accumulation of cholesterol and lipids on arterial walls. These fatty deposits, or plaques, result in the narrowing of blood vessels and can cause strokes if they detach and lodge in smaller blood vessels, blocking blood flow. Red meat and whole-milk dairy products are high in saturated fats. Many packaged foods and snacks contain partially hydrogenated oils and, therefore, tend to be high in trans fats. So be sure to read the labels!

Finally, eating healthfully means avoiding excess calories so that you can maintain a normal weight. Compared with people who are overweight, people whose weight is normal are less likely to develop age-related illnesses, such as adult-onset diabetes and hypertension, risk factors for cerebrovascular disease.

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