Annabel and I read hundreds of research articles each month to keep up to date with the latest findings on healthy longevity. We’ve learned to decode the different methodologies to understand which are the most meaningful, and relevant, to The Age-Well Project. There’s such a broad span of research methods, from investigating the insides of petri dishes to investigating the insides of real people. Many of the best studies on lifestyle review the habits of large groups of people over a long time. As The Age-Well Project is all about the correlation of healthy lifestyle and longevity, it makes sense that these studies are the ones we focus on.
There’s an obvious flaw with many of these large-scale epidemiological studies, however. They rely on the memory (and honesty!) of the participants. Can you remember what you ate last week? I can’t. And if I was being questioned by a health researcher, I might forget those left-over-from-Christmas chocolates I polished off or the ‘may-as-well-finish-the-bottle’ glass of wine I imbibed.
As many of you know, my mother and grandmother spent years living with severe dementia so I’m always really grateful for quality research with genuinely useful findings. This week I came across a fascinating study on the power of diet to boost brain power in older people which – ironically – didn’t rely on memory. What grabbed my attention was that the research fused two disciplines, applying methods from nutritional epidemiology and cognitive neuroscience together. Instead of relying on participants’ recall of what they’d eaten, the study focussed on ‘biomarkers’ in the blood by testing levels of specific nutrients. And instead of just using cognitive tests to assess brain health, the research team also deployed MRI scans to evaluate the efficiency of brain function. 116 people aged 65-75 were tested and you can read the paper here.
The results revealed that several specific nutrients were associated with better cognitive performance: polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), lycopene, carotenoids plus vitamins B12 and D. These nutrients appeared to work together in different ‘equations’ to boost brain health.
- Omega-3 + Omega-6 + carotenes = more efficient communication between the neural networks in the brain.
- Omega-3 + Omega-6 = better performance of the fronto-parietal network (related to our attention span) and improvement in general intelligence
- Omega-3 + Omega-6 + lycopene = moderation of the dorsal attention network (which helps us focus) and executive function.
Thankfully, these nutrients are abundant in some of our favourite Age-Well foods. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish, walnuts and chia seeds, omega-6 fatty acids in flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and pistachios (although few of us are deficient in Omega-6 as it is found in most seed oils used in commercial food production). Lycopene gives tomatoes, watermelon and red peppers their vivid red colour; carotenoids deliver the orange hue of sweet potatoes and carrots. Vitamin B12 is found in meat and dairy (vegans need to supplement). As we’ve said many times before, we get most of our Vitamin D from sunlight so if, like us, you’re in the middle of a northern winter you need a supplement for this too.
This baked salmon recipe isn’t the prettiest dish we’ve ever served up to you, but it delivers many of the nutrients in the research above: carotene from the sweet potato, lycopene from the red peppers and omega-3s (and a little vitamin D) from the salmon. It all cooks in one pan too, always a bonus.
BAKED SALMON WITH LIME AND MISO GLAZE serves 4
- 4 salmon fillets (preferably organic or wild)
- 300g cauliflower or broccoli florets
- 4 red peppers
- 3 large, long sweet potatoes
- 2 tbs olive oil for the pan
- Chopped flat leaf parsley or coriander, to serve
FOR THE GLAZE
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- 1 tbs sweet white miso
- 1 tbs low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tbs mirin
- 2 tsp ginger pulp
Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Mix glaze ingredients together in a small bowl and leave to one side. Cut the sweet potato in half lengthways, then into wedges (no need to peel, unless you want to). Put the sweet potatoes into a large roasting pan, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season well. Roast for 20 minutes.
De-seed the red peppers and cut into long strips. Add to the pan with the cauliflower or broccoli florets, drizzle with oil and season. Roast for another 10 minutes.
Slather the salmon fillets with the glaze, reserving any remaining glaze. Take the roasting pan out of the oven, toss vegetables around then push them down to one end of the pan. Put the salmon into the pan and drizzle any remaining glaze over the vegetables. Cook for another 10-15 minutes until the salmon is opaque all the way through and the vegetables are soft and starting to brown in places. Sprinkle with herbs before serving.
A few other brain-boosting recipes to try
There are lots of other recipes on the blog which deliver these brain-boosting nutrients too:
Turmeric and salmon pilaff – very popular with our readers, I know
Sweet paprika salmon – currently on repeat in my household
Walnut dip (tarator) – am making this tonight
Chia seed pancakes – the perfect weekend breakfast
Tomato and coconut cassoulet – a favourite winter warmer
Spanish butter bean stew – so simple and delicious
Sweet n sour red cabbage and carrot slaw – also on repeat at home – it keeps well in the fridge for a few days
HILARY DEFRIEZ says
Are you allowed to mention specific brands? If so, Engevita Flakes (inactive yeast) are an excellent source of B12, and truly tasty. They add a savoury, cheesy flavour as an alternative topping for pizza or cauliflower cheese for example. I stir a spoonful into soups just before serving. I also spread pesto on toast and top with the flakes and smoked paprika and then finish off in the hot oven of an aga (or under a grill, if you have one).
Susan Saunders says
Hi Hilary, I love nutritional yeast and use it in pesto and cheese dishes as you do. Great source of vitamin B12 as you say.
Many thanks for doing the hard work for me! As you say there is so much information coming at us from all directions and it can be very confusing to know what is best…alongside trying to get on with living your life 🙂
I appreciate you reading and simplyfying research and as my mother has dementia always aware that I need to be paying attention to any new information . Thanks.
Susan Saunders says
Thank you so much for your kind words, Frances. My Age-Well Project grew out of my experiences of caring for my mum who had dementia for 12 years, so I know how brutal that can be. Good luck on the journey.