Fatigue, hot flashes, an expanding waistline, brain fog. All this from vacation? Well, yes, but I think the primary diagnosis is probably the big M – menopause. It’s real, and it just keeps on giving.
According to a study published in the recent edition of the journal Menopause, cognitive changes occur during perimenopause and menopause. Though this is not a surprise to many of us, it was confirmed in this study when women were put through rigorous cognitive tests and found to have diminished ability to focus on challenging tasks. The exact cognitive changes are not yet clear, but those reporting brain fog also noted increased levels of anxiety, depression and sleep issues.
Eating wisely is one way to combat the brain fog brought on by menopause.
Specific food and beverages have been identified to improve alertness. For many people, caffeine-containing beverages are considered to be the primary brain stimulator. In 2012, we consumed an average of 300 milligrams of caffeine – or two to three cups – per person per day to fuel mental alertness.
Liquids in any form provide a boost to brain functioning, memory and alertness (excluding those containing alcohol). But there also are foods that have been identified to help boost memory and alertness.
High nitrate vegetables such as beets, arugula, spinach, radish and cabbage can create a boost in blood flow. Age-related cognitive decline has been attributed to reduced blood flow. Nitrates, anthocyanins and other anti-inflammatories are notable in this preventive use. Berries and cherries are good sources of anthocyanins (naturally occurring phytonutrients are thought to help lessen cognitive decline). For a nutrient-packed salad, try liberally adding sliced, fresh strawberries (preferably organic) and sliced oranges to a spinach salad, sprinkle it with toasted walnuts and then top the salad with a citrus or raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
Dark green, leafy vegetables are considered to be brain-protective by reducing inflammation in the body. Easy-to-prepare greens are available in great variety because of the packaged, trimmed and cleaned versions in most supermarkets. Stores are offering everything from tender baby leaves to a combination of Asian greens, kale or chard. (Don’t forget, they also need to be washed thoroughly.) Use these greens as a snack or in a flavorful salad, sauté them in garlic and olive oil or fold them into a casserole before baking.
Whole grains, such as whole grain barley, quinoa and brown rice, can be a refreshing combination. Eating more whole grains can lead to less internal inflammation. Quinoa is the only grain that can boast being a complete protein. Grains can be used interchangeably in pilafs, risottos, breakfast cereal and cold salads. Cook a batch of whole grains ahead of time to serve with fruit for breakfast.
Avocados are another food that contains anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that provide protection to brain cells. In addition to guacamole, try a lightly mashed ripe avocado sprinkled with three-quarters of a teaspoon of lemon juice with salt and black pepper to taste on thick-cut, toasted multi-grain bread. Sprinkle the toast with sunflower or pumpkin seeds, red pepper flakes and a drizzle with olive oil.
Menopause doesn’t have to mean brain fog – try some new twists into your repertoire to stop the brain drain.
email@example.com or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.