Mindful Eating

When it comes to maintaining healthy weight and promoting good heart health, a slogan associated with a popular brand of candy is ironically the best approach.

“See the rainbow. Taste the rainbow.”

While doctors won’t advocate incorporating Skittles into your everyday meals, it is a popular piece of advice in regards to healthy, mindful eating – with an emphasis on mindful.

While most associate diet with physical health and well-being, research shows that foods that are good for your heart are also good for your brain.

In 2017, the Alzheimer’s Association launched a $30 million U.S. Pointer Study, the first ever in the U.S. that studies lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and its potential impact on cognitive decline. Preliminary data indicates that controlling blood pressure, which is commonly associated with heart health, can decrease the risk of developing memory issues by as much as 20 percent.

“There’s not a food that I can think of that’s good for your heart that’s not good for your brain and vice versa,” said Dr. Jeri Yvonne Williams, a movement disorders specialist with Movement Disorders Neurology in Bakersfield. “There’s really no separation.”

The leading causes of death in the U.S. are still heart disease and cancer, but sitting at the No. 6 spot is Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive, irreversible neurological disorder that is the most common form of dementia.

According to Dr. Carolyn Kaloostian, a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, 1 in 10 older adults are diagnosed with dementia and there will be approximately 7 million by 2025. The disorder disproportionately affects women as well as certain ethnicities.

“We don’t exactly know why , but what we do know is what we consume is a big part of it,” Kaloostian said.

Williams recommends foods rich in iron and vitamins A and K, like eggplant and dark, leafy greens, as well as antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries and raspberries and fatty fish like salmon, which is rich in omega-3s. Dark chocolate is also recommended, in moderation, thanks to brain-boosting compounds like flavonoids and caffeine.

“If we can get good carbs and good sources of energy to help the brain work and for the person to be able to get through their day, not only is it healthier for the body but also healthier for the brain,” Williams said.

Maintaining healthy blood pressure is also important, according to Kaloostian, as it benefits the heart, kidneys and brain.

In July, the Alzheimer’s Association will bring together researchers from 70 countries to Los Angeles to discuss the impacts of lifestyle changes on cognitive decline in an effort to affect change during our lifetimes.

“We’ve had tremendous improvements in cardiovascular health, from medications to interventions,” Kaloostian said. “Having a heart attack doesn’t always kill you anymore. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been as much improvement and applicable data with (mental health). Now that that’s coming out, we’re all hands on deck. I think it’s going to be a very interesting next couple of years for brain health.” 

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