Kelly J. Murphy, Ph.D., C.Psych.

Kelly J. Murphy Ph.D., C.Psych.

Living With Mild Cognitive Impairment

Top 10 'Memory' Diet Tips

How to eat your way to a better memory.

Posted Jun 26, 2015

Typically when we hear the word DIET we think of eating less food to lose weight. Here the word ‘diet’ simply refers to what you eat, your diet. Turns out eating a healthy diet can actually promote your learning and memory ability. In seniors, this has been established by having older adults from similar socioeconomic backgrounds keep food journals. Those seniors that report eating healthy diets do better on memory tests and have a lower risk of dementia.  Indeed healthy diet practices slow progression of cognitive decline in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who are at risk of future dementia. Possible reasons for this cognitive benefit include the role of the nutrients (contained within foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and certain fatty acids) in performing critical functions related to brain cell development, repair, and communication. In other words, science has directly linked the quality of the food we eat to our brain health.

So what is a healthy diet? A healthy diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, is low in saturated fats, includes whole grains, and weekly servings of fish. The MyPlate picture included here offers a simple way of figuring out how much of each food group you should be eating at any given meal. Note that fruits and vegetables take up half the plate. Unfortunately this picture isn’t as much help if you are having stew, soup, pizza, or lasagna which can often include varying amounts of the four food groups (grains / dairy / meat or meat substitutes / and fruits and vegetables). In the latter cases you just have to evaluate the ingredients, ballpark the relative presence of the 4 food groups, and gage what you think. For example is your soup mostly noodles and quite salty in taste? If yes, it’s probably not very nutritious. 

To find information about healthy eating, including information related to different cultures, and in different languages, try the website from the United States Department of Agriculture Centre for Nutrition Policy and Promotion The Health Canada website is also very helpful for learning more about serving sizes and the four food groups and even includes a tutorial on how to read food labels.

The following is a list of 10 ‘memory’ diet tips aimed at older adults. These tips will get you started in thinking about your diet and what you can do to promote your memory health by eating better.

  1. Eat a varied diet to get the nutrients you need because there is no single wonder food, nutrient, vitamin or mineral. In other words, there is no magic pill.

  2. Avoid highly processed foods, like donuts and other fast foods, because they don’t contain enough nutrients, digest quickly, and leave you feeling hungry for more.  Less processed foods have more nutrients and take longer to digest so you feel full longer. An example would be whole grain bread versus white bread or an apple versus a cookie.

  3. Get your calcium and vitamin D. Healthy diets will typically provide sufficient vitamins and nutrients, but if you are over 50 then you might need to take calcium and vitamin D supplements. The recommended daily intake is 1200 mg of Calcium and 800 IU of Vitamin D for seniors, but FIRST talk to your doctor before taking supplements to ensure it is safe and won’t interfere with existing medical conditions or medications.

  4. Avoid manufactured transfats that are typically found in highly processed foods because these transfats lower the good cholesterol and raise the bad cholesterol. Especially avoid anything made with hydrogenated oil.

  5. Eat enough to stay healthy especially if you find you just don’t feel as hungry as you used to and are eating less. In this case you might want to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about recommendations for meal replacement drinks to ensure you are getting enough nutrition. If possible, consult with a registered dietician.

  6. Check food labels for the salt, sugar, and fat content and make sure these ingredients are not the highest contributors to the nutrient content of the food product: If they are then the product probably has low nutrition value and likely won’t keep your hunger satisfied for long.

  7. Choose bright colors when selecting your fruits and vegetables because the bright and darkly coloured produce has the most nutrients.

  8. Savour your food by paying attention to all the sensations associated with the sight, sound, feel, taste and smell of what you are eating. Taking your time to enjoy what you are eating will help you avoid over-eating.

  9. Get enough fluids, and that doesn’t include caffeinated or alcoholic beverages because these do not promote hydration. The daily recommendation is about 8, 8 ounce, glasses of water. If this seems a daunting amount of water, you may also consider your fluid intake in general by counting up all the fluids you have enjoyed throughout the day when drinking juice, milk, or having soup.

  10. Cheat, yes, ‘everything in moderation including moderation.' This means it’s ok to let yourself have a treat once in a while, especially if having a treat now and then helps you stay on the healthy eating path most of the time (Remember though, food is like medicine to those of us who are on a restricted diet for medical reasons, such as diabetes, so excericse appropriate cuation and seek the advice of a health care professional if you are unsure.)