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Most of us know the importance of diet when it comes to staying healthy and feeling our best. However when it comes to preventing and addressing dementia, it’s something that’s often underemphasized. Food is incredibly powerful and when combined with a healthy lifestyle, has the ability to greatly improve cognition and brain health.
KetoFlex 12/3 is a specific dietary approach developed by Dr. Dale Bredesen, a specialist in neurodegenerative diseases, that helps to address some of the key drivers of cognitive decline while optimizing brain health. Although keto is in the name, this isn’t your standard keto diet of bacon and steak. While it does minimize carbohydrates, it is mostly plant-based and focuses on non-starchy vegetables and generous amounts of healthy fat. This way of eating helps individuals get into a state of mild ketosis and creates ketones, which are the preferred fuel for the brain. It can also help to improve insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, protect against cardiovascular disease, and reduce obesity which support cognition and brain function.
Although this way of eating can be a shift from the typical western diet, there are plenty of nutrient rich and delicious foods you can enjoy that will not only help improve cognitive function, but your overall health as well.
Non-starchy vegetables won’t spike your blood sugar and are rich in fiber and nutrients. They should take up the majority of your plate and be enjoyed raw and cooked. Leafy greens like swiss chard, spinach, watercress and arugula are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients that contribute to brain health. Cruciferous vegetables are also extremely nutrient dense and support detoxification. These include cabbage, bok choy, kale, cauliflower, collard greens, and radishes.
Increasing healthy fats, while reducing carbohydrates, helps to improve insulin sensitivity, while creating ketones to fuel your brain. Extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, as well as cold water fatty fish are all excellent choices. Walnuts are one of the top choices for nuts and are associated with brain and cardiovascular health due to their high omega-3 content. Extra-virgin olive oil is one of the best oils to consume for your health and is full of healthy fats and phytonutrients that support cognitive function. Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is the least processed and will have the highest amounts of disease fighting phytonutrients. It should primarily be used as a finishing oil and is great as a salad dressing, drizzled over fish, meat or veggies.
These are some of the most beneficial animal proteins for cognitive health. Fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring are low in mercury and are a great source of DHA, which is one of the more important fats for the brain. Eggs from hens that have been able to roam pastures are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and have higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins than conventional eggs. Both fish and eggs are also excellent sources of choline, a micronutrients that stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which is essential for memory.
Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and pomegranate are packed full of fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds. Their dark, colourful pigments are associated with improved cognitive performance and neuroprotection. They are best enjoyed in small portions and should be paired with healthy fats and protein to minimize the impact on blood sugar. Berries will retain their healthy qualities, even when frozen, so feel free to enjoy these year round!
Our gut health has a significant impact on our overall health, including things like our mood, behavior and cognition. Including foods that support the gut microbiome is a great way to give both your gut and brain a boost.
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic foods include leeks, asparagus,onions, garlic, jicama, dandelion greens, mushrooms, and raw Jerusalem artichoke. Resistant starches also act as food for beneficial bacteria. When they feed on these staches they produce short-chain fatty acids that can positively affect brain function. Sweet potato, green bananas, turnips and legumes are all great sources of this starch. Probiotic foods, or fermented foods, actually contain beneficial bacteria and can help repopulate the gut. Foods rich in probiotics include sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented veggies,miso, tempeh, and kombucha. When you buy these from the store, ensure they are prepared naturally, without the use of vinegar or heat, as this will kill the beneficial bacteria.
Processed foods like muffins, cakes, pasta, chips, and french fries contain little nutrients, contribute to insulin resistance and will affect your ability to achieve ketosis. In addition, these foods often contain added sugar and processed vegetable oils like corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean, which are highly inflammatory.
Gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley should be avoided as much as possible. These can contribute to intestinal permeability and inflammation, which are drivers of cognitive decline. Cow’s milk protein and casein can also promote inflammation in the body and should be minimized.
Some other foods that should be minimized or avoided are high-glycemic fruits, conventionally raised animal meat, artificial sweeteners and additives.
Nutrition is a key element when it comes to cognitive health and is part of the memory program here at Elevated Health. Our Holistic Nutritional Consultant can work with you to help implement these new eating habits and tailor a plan to meet your unique needs.
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Gorzynik-Debicka, M., et al. (2018). “Potential Health Benefits of Olive Oil and Plant Polyphenols”
De Punder, K., et al. (2013). “The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation”