With school fast-approaching, many of us may be thinking of ways to provide delicious and healthy lunch and snack foods to our kids that will carry them through the day. You don’t want to send them off with a bunch of sugar, so they can wreak havoc on the teacher while bouncing off the walls before they crash; however, you also don’t want to find out those Ants on a log you gave your child were swapped (along with some pocket change) for a snack-size candy bar. We spend so much time thinking about how to provide nourishment for our kids, but how much thought goes into the foods we are putting into our bodies? How often are we eating things super quickly, or eating not-great foods out of convenience?
Developing brains, like those of our children, require certain foods to optimally function. Well, so do our brains, and as they begin (*gasp) aging, we should consider how important long-term maintenance is.
Our brain really acts like a command center, processing huge amounts of information each second, while sending orders to the rest of the body. “Hey, you lungs, don’t forget to breathe. And you, legs, make sure to lift that foot an extra two inches to make the step. Who thought platforms were a good idea?” The connections in our brain that allow for signalling to occur are not only important for physical activity/ movement, but also for learning and memory. As our brains age, there is some atrophy over time which is normal. Unfortunately, millions of people are affected by Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), where the brain is not functioning as it should, and there is cognitive decline. Who here doesn’t have a family member with Alzheimer’s or dementia?
The number of people in the United States who will have AD by 2050 is projected to be 13.8 million, according to a report from 2014 on the economic implications of AD. Other cognitive impairments that are thought to be age-related may affect 2-3 times as many adults by that same year. While I’m not writing this to alarm anyone, I think it’s important to let parents know that lifestyle factors, such as diet, can actually protect our brains in the long run. This is why it is as important to consider the foods we eat, as it is our children’s.
It has been shown that diets high in saturated fats (butter, fried foods, meats) can lead to learning and memory impairments. The good news is that the opposite can be said for unsaturated fats(olive oil, fish, nuts); they protect the brain and can even enhance it’s learning and memory performance! Studies focusing on a Mediterranean-type diet have associated a slower cognitive decline and less of a risk that Cognitive impairment will progress to AD, with those participants that closely followed the diet high in healthy fats. Scientists have also come up with a MIND diet; suggesting that adults consume at least the following number of servings of these nine foods (see image below).
I feel very fortunate to live in a state where we take such good care of ourselves; we love to eat local, we aren’t known for heavy, fried foods, and we are frequently playing outside.
If we can maintain the care we give our bodies, and let vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes be the main staples of our diets, we have a better chance of staying mentally-sharp as we age, oh-so gracefully. So, next time you are making that hummus veggie wrap with a side of sliced apple and almond butter for your kid, make one for you too.