Q I have been hearing more and more about how a poor diet may cause dementia and am getting really concerned about my memory. I have noticed that I forget things. I sometimes make a mental note to take something with me when I leave home, but forget to do it a few minutes later. I eat relatively healthily and am only 35 – should I be worried? L.Z
A SALLY-ANN CREED REPLIES: One of the best foods to increase brain power is fish. This is because of the essential fatty acids it contains, particularly the omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which has been widely studied for decades and found to be a powerful memory enhancer. The brain is largely made up of fat, and by eating a low-fat, ‘lite’ or no-fat diet you may be predisposing yourself to memory loss. Without healthy fat we cannot have a healthy brain (or body), and one of the first signs that we have too little healthy fat in our diet is often a compromised memory.
Fish and fish oil are not only important for the brain, but also for the retina and other nerve tissue. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids from fish enhance learning ability, improve problem-solving skills and boost memory, while enhancing communication between brain cells. A study published in the Archives of Neurology in November 2006 found that people with the highest levels of omega-3 fats were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than people with the lowest levels.1 The best fish to eat (low in contaminants and high in omega-3s) includes wild salmon, sardines, lake trout, oysters and Atlantic mackerel. If that’s not feasible, ultra-refined fish oil supplements are excellent.
Avoiding unhealthy fats such as trans-fats, the damaged fats found in baked and processed goods, is of course an excellent thing to do. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – around 30% of your diet should consist of healthy fat.
SOME HEALTHY SOURCES OF FATS
- Nuts (preferably raw, so that they are not damaged in the process of frying or heating)
- Seeds (not seed oils, because of their instability – just eat the seeds)
- Fatty fish three times a week
- Fish oil supplements, if free of mercury (ultra- refined)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Macadamia nut oil.
1. Schaefer EJ, et al. Plasma phosphatidylcholine docosahexaenoic acid content and risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: The Framingham Heart Study. Arch Neurol. 2006; 63:1545-1550.