“What’s Good For The Heart May Also Be Good For the Brain”

By Delaney Javens, RDN, LDN

Clinical Registered Dietitian

LIFE Beaver County

Delaney Javens of the Valley Care Adult DayWhat we eat may have a positive or negative effect on our overall health. In the following article, Delaney Javens of the Valley Care Adult Day program explores the benefits of a Mediterranean Diet for older adults. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet helps reduce the risk associated with heart disease and stroke. The Mediterranean diet varies but in general, it’s high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.

Fruits – Berries contain antioxidants, specifically flavonoids, which are responsible for the natural plant pigments that give berries their color. Flavonoids can be found in various berries, such as blueberries, and have been shown to help improve memory as well as stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain resulting in boosted concentration. The antioxidants and fiber found in fruits impact heart health by playing a role that helps to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure as well.

Vegetables – Green leafy and cruciferous vegetables such as kale, spinach and arugula contain vitamin E, vitamin K, beta-carotene, folate and many other micronutrients. Vitamin E can prevent or delay cognitive decline. Vitamin K has also been shown to sharpen memory and slow cognitive decline. Beta-carotene can help to slow cognitive decline in relation to its antioxidant properties also working to protect the brain. Folate is a B vitamin essential for brain health across all age groups. The same goes for vegetables as fruits, vegetables are rich in antioxidants and fiber which again, supports cardiovascular health in relation to cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Fish – Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, and tuna all contain heart-healthy unsaturated omega 3 fatty acids that have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease as well as support brain development and function.

Nuts – Nuts are also a good source of unsaturated omega 3 fatty acids that have been shown to support heart and brain health as explained above. Macadamia nuts in particular provide nutrients that support normal brain functioning. Walnuts have been coined as “the nut” for brain health as it contains about twice the amount of antioxidants provided by other nuts which play a vital role in counteracting cognitive decline as outlined earlier.

While the foods listed above have been shown to support a healthy heart and brain, there are other foods that you may want to avoid, as they are notably not supportive of these two organ systems. For example, according to Javens, we should limit food high in saturated fats and added sugars.

These types of foods can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive problems. Furthermore, foods high in saturated fats and added sugar may cause mental sluggishness, brain fog, and drowsiness shortly after consumption. A high intake of saturated fat foods is negatively associated with heart health and can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels. The same holds true with foods high in added sugar as they may contribute to overweight/obesity and high triglyceride levels which can also be adversely related to overall heart health.

Be mindful that there is not ONE particular food that can be labeled as the “saving grace” for a healthy heart and brain. Instead, a healthy heart and brain revolve around the idea of maintaining an overall eating pattern inclusive of the beneficial foods outlined above as well as an eating pattern that limits the foods that are not so beneficial to both organ systems. Utilizing nutrition, as outlined in this article, is one method of holistically supporting the long-term health of your heart and brain.

The Valley Care Association

The Valley Care Association of Lutheran SeniorLife has been serving older adults since 1978.  The professional and caring staff at Valley Care help older adults remain comfortable, safe, and independent in their own homes and community…while giving caregivers respite and peace of mind knowing that their loved one is in a safe environment as they work and manage other personal responsibilities.

Valley Care Association in Ambridge serves older adults 60 and over as well as younger adults who have physical challenges, chronic medical conditions, disabilities and memory loss. Participants can choose to attend our programs as often as they would like. Transportation is available. Financial assistance may also be available to those who qualify. Services include physical and occupational therapy, two meals per day, recreational programming, daily group exercise, both indoor and outdoor activities in a secure environment, pet therapy, and many other amenities.

For more information about Valley Care Adult Day Services in Ambridge, PA, please call 724-266-9626.