Since nutrition plays an essential role in overall wellness, it stands to reason that food choices may impact brain health, too. Researchers believe a cleaner, healthier diet may help brain health by warding off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Consider the lifestyle of people living in the Blue Zones as evidence.
Blue Zones and Brain Health
Blue Zones are regions where people experience the longest, healthiest lives. They have lower rates of many life-limiting diseases, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Ikaria, Greece, is one example. Residents there are 75% less likely to develop dementia than their peers in the United States.
While people in Blue Zones are physically active on a daily basis, researchers believe diet might be the key to warding off disease. What do people in the Blue Zones eat that may be protecting brain health? Here’s what researchers say make up the core of a Blue Zone resident’s diet.
Blue Zone Residents’ Diet
- Mostly whole foods: Instead of a diet high in convenience foods or menus that alter the natural state of foods, people in the Blue Zones consume mostly whole foods. Fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of their diet. Healthy nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and cashews, are also staples.
- Less meat: Unlike traditional Western diets, people in Blue Zones eat very little meat. Most consume only two ounces of meat, which includes beef, pork, and chicken, no more than five times a month. Instead, Blue Zone residents eat fish in moderation, primarily sardines, cod, and anchovies.
- Limit eggs: Many healthy eating plans use eggs to replace meat as a protein source. Blue Zone guidelines, however, suggest consuming few eggs. If you do eat eggs, they should have omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 eggs are produced when flaxseed is added to the hens’ diets.
- Consume beans: Beans are considered a superfood in the Blue Zones. That’s because they tend to be low in calories while high in fiber and protein. Because they are so filling, beans can prevent you from overeating and gaining weight.
- Eat whole grains: Whole grain breads are best, as they contain fiber and other essentials. By contrast, breads and pastas that contain bleached white flour should be avoided. The body converts white flour into sugar, which results in spikes in insulin levels.
- Minimal sugar: Americans have a long-established love of sugar. Sometimes it’s from hidden sources, such as condiments, marinades, dried fruits, and yogurt. Sugar is a leading cause of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is linked to health problems, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.
- Avoid dairy: Blue Zone residents swap dairy with foods made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. That helps them avoid potential problems with lactose while also reducing sugar and fat intake.
- Stay hydrated: One final tip garnered from Blue Zone diets is to stay hydrated. Blue Zone residents drink mostly water, but also rely on foods with a high water content. Common ones include berries, cucumber, leafy greens, celery, and melon.
As is true of any major lifestyle change, starting slowly and making gradual adjustments to your diet might lead to greater long-term success in the form of brain health.
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