How Nutrition Impacts Mood and Cognition in Older Adults
Health & Wellness
Posted: July 22, 2020
By Kathryn Ciamaichelo, Morrison Living Nutrition Care Manager
We have all felt the familiar feelings of tiredness, crankiness, and maybe even anger that come with hunger. You may refer to it as “hangry,” hungry + angry. It’s our brains desperate plea for nutrition. Food is vital to our health. More recently, the complex connection between food and brain health is becoming better understood. Scientists are discovering ways that food is directly related to brain health and mood, including anxiety and depression, both common conditions in older adults. Certain foods have even been correlated with the prevention and/or delay of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Without proper fuel, our brains cannot function optimally
Dietary Strategies to Optimize Total Brain Health
- Don’t skip meals. Eating regularly throughout the day helps prevents blood sugar highs and lows, providing a steady stream of energy that will allow our brains to work most efficiently. Try to consume well-balanced meals that release energy slowly by including whole grains, protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables.
- Protein Matters. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which individually play a role in many of our brains functions including regulating our thoughts and feelings. It also helps to maintain our blood sugar levels. Choose high quality proteins such as lean meats, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt, and tofu.
- Eat Healthy Fats. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids help to decrease inflammation and oxidative stress in our bodies and brains, thus promoting optimal function. Choose healthy fats such as olives/olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, and anchovies).
- Eat the Rainbow. Variety is key when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Their bright hues come from antioxidants and phytochemicals that support brain activity and function. They also play a role in the prevention of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. Aim for a minimum of 5 servings per day of fruits and vegetables and a variety of colors.
- Avoid Refined Sugars. Many studies show a correlation between diets high in refined sugars and impaired brain function – including higher rates of depression and anxiety. These foods cause oxidative stress and inflammation and should be avoided as much as possible. Common sources include sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, cakes, cookies, pies and sugary cereals. Look to the food label to find foods with little added sugars.
- Monitor Caffeine Intake. Excessive caffeine can leave you feeling anxious and depressed. It also impacts our sleep, which can further contribute to those symptoms. Be aware of the amount of coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, and energy drinks you consume each day.
- Hydrate. Dehydration can make it difficult for us to concentrate and think clearly. It can also lead to constipation. Be sure you are drinking a minimum of 64 oz. each day. Water is best but herbal teas, green teas and diluted juice are other great choices.
About The Author
Kat Ciamaichelo is a registered dietitian, ski and mountain bike enthusiast and travel junkie. She’s on a mission to prove that healthy eating doesn’t involve restriction or a rocket science degree. When she’s not in the office or on a mountain, you’ll find her cooking without a recipe or working on her crossword skills.