Preserving brain function as we age is a goal that becomes especially important to us as we reach middle age. With this thought in mind (pun intended), it is good to consider the connection of our dietary habits to our brain function. One method of measuring a brain’s capabilities is to look at how long the brain maintains neural networks while performing mental tasks. This length of time is a measure of brain network stability. How might diet affect both network stability and our apparent “brain age”?
Hyperglycemia and Brain Age
Although brain function declines with age, based on our health and habits that decline is accelerated or slowed. For example, studies show that diabetics generally have brains that are “older” than their actual age. It is theorized that this is due to repeated incidences of hyperglycemia, or very high glucose levels in the blood.
Diet can also create a state of hyperglycemia. If we are in the habit of drinking large quantities of soda, sports drinks, sweet teas, flavored coffees, alcohol or juices, and also regularly eating candies, desserts, and refined carbohydrates (instead of using whole grains for our carbohydrates), we flood our body with significant quantities of glucose. As a result, these higher glucose levels may be lowering our brain network stability and making our brains appear “older.”
Maintaining Network Stability with Diet
A group of researchers working with Massachusetts General Hospital and Stony Brook University studied dietary effects on brain imaging. They confirmed that high glucose levels do impact brain network stability negatively. As a result, they pointed out a number of methods for maintaining lower glucose levels:
- lowering the carbohydrates in our diet;
Altering our glucose load through diet can be accomplished by the following methods:
- switching from refined carbohydrates to whole grains and whole foods;
- increasing our consumption of whole fruits instead of just juices;
- saving high carb drinks for mealtime and reducing the amount we consume;
- emphasizing water for hydration;
- increasing our consumption of vegetables;
- significantly reducing our use of sugar, candy, and sugary foodstuffs.
Reducing the amount we eat is always an option, but most people find this difficult to maintain over time. Changing what we eat, especially by including foods with more fiber, like fruit and vegetables, is an easier way to stay satisfied and sustain a new diet. Using a ketogenic dietary plan is also possible, but this represents a significant alteration in your regular eating pattern and must be discussed with your doctor first.
Changing our glucose levels through fasting does not require giving up food for a day or more (although some doctors or dieticians may recommend that you do so). Fasting can be as simple as eating our dinner earlier, ensuring that overnight there is a ten to twelve hour gap between meals. Some people accomplish this by eating well at breakfast and lunch, while skipping dinner altogether.
Exercise is the final strategy for lowering glucose levels. Since glucose is the body’s primary fuel for energy, it is readily consumed when we are active. A sedentary lifestyle is therefore bad, not only for our waistline, but also for our brain. All three of these changes, diet, fasting, and exercise, can be combined to create maximum benefits for lowering our “brain age.”