"The business of nutrition is changing every day" but there are certain basics that apply at all times.
That was the message from Michael Glasgow, the nutrition services supervisor for Waukesha County's Aging and Disability Resources Center, in a presentation titled "How Nutrition Affects the Brain" at the 2014 Senior Fest. He was previously a consultant on the Older Americans Act for the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources.
Even at rest, the brain uses 20 to 30 percent of the body's overall energy supply, Glasgow pointed out. He said energy should come from a combination of calories, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water.
"What's good for the brain is usually good for the heart too," Glasgow said. The key to good health is a balanced diet, combined with a limited consumption of alcohol (no more than two drinks per day), a minimal intake of "junk foods" and regular exercise.
Persons who are deficient in their energy intake are often sad, apathetic or even hopeless, Glasgow said. A shortage of energy, rather than personality traits, can be responsible for episodes of irritability or restlessness on the part of nursing home residents.
"How you act is affected by your level of energy," he said. This includes one's ability to read and the use of language skills.
That inadequate or improper acquisition of energy from food is a problem that has been documented in the survey by the Meals on Wheels Association, which shows that an average of 124,236 senior citizens in Wisconsin alone "are hungry daily," Glasgow reported. Regarding his professional work, he emphasized that the meals provided through organized nutrition programs provide only one-third of a person's daily food and energy needs.
Because of the amino acids it contains, protein is a crucial source of energy, but it should be obtained from many kinds of food, not merely peanut butter, soy or any other item, Glasgow cautioned. Calcium, he said, affects muscles, the nervous system and the heart while helping to keep people calm.
Vitamin B-12, which is supplied by animal-based foods, is not easily absorbed, but it is important because it coats the nerves and helps to prevent dementia, he said. That's why it is often provided by injections. Vitamin B-6 also comes from animal foods along with whole grains, brown rice and some fruits and vegetables.
Copper, which supports the immune system and brain functioning, comes from nuts, seeds, seafood, chocolate and meats, Glasgow explained. He also mentioned iron (from animals) and zinc, which is obtained from dairy products, eggs and nuts for protecting cell health.
The bottom line for all of the specific benefits about particular foods is that "a better diet means less depression," Glasgow said.
Common eating habits, such as the ingestion of a lot of saturated fats and sugars, are not good for health, Glasgow said. Many health problems can be traced to eating the wrong foods rather than to a shortage of food.
Sugar is no more than a stimulant likely to put a person on a roller coaster track of energy supply, he added. The same observation applies to donuts, coffee and sodas. Glasgow noted the long-standing promotion of low-fat foods led to substitution of sugars in order to provide an acceptable taste.
Regarding carbohydrates, which are a preferred source of body fuel or energy, Glasgow recommends a combination of plant and animal sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains (not white bread), meats and fish. Although both are sources of carbohydrates, lentils are a far better choice than candy, he said.
Although fats and carbohydrates are essential parts of a healthy diet, excess amounts of them can create the plaque that nurtures Alzheimer's disease, Glasgow warned. He rules out any consumption of trans fats.
While it's a "very typical" practice, he said that the eating of a combination a large hamburger, French fries and a large soda alone provides the consumer with an excess of the daily recommendation of carbohydrates, sugars and trans fats.
Glasgow advised the consumption of fish three times per week and the use of fish oil supplements as being very beneficial for the brain because of the Omega 3 that is supplied. He explained, however, that the fish should be the deep water fatty species (salmon, tuna and mackerel) rather than those that are popular at a Friday night fish fry.
Other good food choices are leafy greens, peas, beans, fruits and nuts. He prefers canola oil over olive oil for cooking and noted he "eats butter" rather than choosing one of the substitutes.
■ Vitamin B-12: animal-based foods.
■ Vitamin B-6: animal-based, whole grains, brown rice and some fruits and vegetables.
■ Copper: nuts, seeds, seafood, chocolate and meats
■ Omega 3: salmon, tuna and mackerel
■ Carbohydrates: legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains (not white bread), meats and fish