In 1969, the average life expectancy of an Australian was 70 years of age. In 2018, this increased to 82. So, we now have another 12 years to keep our mind and body in good shape. To stay physically and mentally well and healthy into our mature years means we need to start paying attention to our daily nutrition now. Small steps toward a better eating plan will go a long way to supporting your health and wellbeing as you get older.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates 460 -370 BC
Hippocrates was widely regarded as the Father of Western Medicine. According to historical accounts, he had a gentle approach to health and wellbeing and believed in the body’s ability to heal itself with the right foods.
He observed that people who ate mainly fresh, plant-based diets developed fewer diseases. His primary form of treatment became reviewing his patients’ diets (and lifestyles) and making changes where required. More than 2,000 years later, research shows that we become what we consume and what we eat is fundamental to our health and wellbeing.
You may have heard the expression “we are what we eat”. The moment food enters your gut, it begins a process of breaking down and being absorbed. The chemistry or nutritional content of the food we eat becomes a part of our blood, bones, tissues, organs, skin, and hair. Basically our entire physical being.
Anything we place into our bodies, food, drink or any other substance, has an immediate and long term effect on how healthy we are, how balanced we feel and how well we age.
Research has now proven the brain-gut connection and that the brain and the gut are intimately connected.
In very simple terms, this means the brain affects the gut and the gut affects the brain. For example, mental and emotional symptoms can be experienced when the gut is troubled, and gut problems will be experienced when the person is feeling emotionally troubled.
For example, if your stomach has problems digesting and disseminating nutrients, this can lead to stress and anxiety, memory problems or even depression and vice versa. So healing one or the other can begin from either end; either a good diet will support your brain and mental health, or memory and cognitive issues can be helped with certain foods and a better diet.
Whole grains are grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, barley, millet, and oats. These grain varieties are all more accessible in our supermarkets nowadays. They are high in iron, magnesium and zinc as well as Vitamin B’s and are have a lower GI (Glycaemic Index). Glycaemic Index refers to the speed with which food is digested causing a rise in our blood’s glucose levels. The lower the GI, the more gradual this is and the more stable we feel.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout are high in Omega 3’s which our bodies do not manufacture naturally. Omega 3 fats are healthy fats and boost brain function to keep our brain’s cognitive function healthy.
These little berries are rich in antioxidants therefore eliminating harmful iron compounds and other free radicals. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body which have been linked to poorer brain function and memory.
The good old egg is a rich source of Vitamin B’s and Choline. Choline is a neurotransmitter that improves memory and regulates our mood and higher intakes of choline are linked to better memory and mental function.
Vegetables – Leafy greens, the Brassica family and a rainbow of other veggies
You can’t have too many greens! Spinach, kale and other spring greens contain Vitamins A, C, K and Folate which improve brain function and reduce inflammation in the brain and body which occurs when the body is overloaded.
The Brassica family includes favourite vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts and bok choy. They are high in Folate, Choline and Vitamin K, which are nutrients that have all been shown to improve cognitive function.
A good approach is to make your vegetable and salad dishes a variety so that they contain as many colours of the rainbow as possible.
Almonds, walnuts, peanuts and pecans are higher in Omega 3’s and Vitamin E. Studies have shown that eating nuts improves brain function and prevents neurodegenerative diseases. Omega 3’s and Vitamin E protects cells from decline and oxidative stress. Interestingly, when you cut a walnut in half, it looks like half a brain. Even more interesting is that this nut is actually known for its therapeutic benefits of keeping the brain mentally alert!
Sugar has developed a very unhealthy reputation in the new millennium, and indeed there are good reasons to minimise it or remove it altogether. This depends on your current health and how dependent on sugar you are. For example, if you must have dessert every night, then it may be time to start thinking about another healthier treat after dinner.
According to the Hippocrates Institute, “A high fructose diet has been shown to have damaging effects on the hippocampus, a brain region critical for learning and memory.” Keeping sugar at arm’s length is a wise decision for good long term brain health. Instead of a daily habit, perhaps save the treats for special occasions and going out to dinner.