Food for thought: Nutrition and the aging brain

by Richard A. Dienstbier (University of Nebraska)

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"Food for Thought" is the perfect double entendre for this fine book. Dienstbier, an eminent scholar who specializes in the aging brain, reviews relevant research to offer us a fresh look on nutrition and brain health. With clear, precise writing and delightful wry humor, Dienstbier makes practical suggestions for having a long “smartspan.” Ashley Montagu famously wrote that he wanted “to die young as late as possible.”
"Food for Thought" will help us do just that.

Mary Pipher
Psychologist and author of 'Women Rowing North'

This book considers the scientific evidence on the anti-aging effects of food choices. It will be of very broad interest, not only to those approaching the later stages of life but to everyone wanting to promote and prolong well-being and quality of life.
The clear and engaging style of writing makes this book enjoyable to read, while the author’s deep and comprehensive understanding of the scientific method and its strengths and gaps means readers can be confident of the work’s balance and independence.
Dienstbier summarises a huge and scattered scientific literature and also provides guidance for readers to evaluate that literature for themselves as future research reports become available.
Overall this book is a masterly review of what we know about nutrition and the aging brain, the foundations of that knowledge, and how we will learn more.

Dr. Helen R. Winefield
Emeritus Professor, School of Psychology
University of Adelaide, South Australia

This book provides an aggregate view of innumerable research studies focused on nutrition and how it impacts human cognitive and emotional capabilities. Dr. Dienstbier “unpacks” these studies, organizes the information, and provides great insight into how human consumption of food and fluids influences our ability to comprehend, think, retain, and navigate our world. In
his usual good-humor fashion, he explains complex concepts in ways that are easily understood by the reader and encourages one to keep reading. In fact, reading this excellent book was not
unlike staying up late at night with a good cup of coffee (or glass of wine) to get to the end of a captivating novel. As nurses and other health science professionals engage with the aging American consumer, this book will become an excellent resource to which they will return again and again.

Charlotte Liggett, Ed.D, MSN, MBA, RN
Chair, Department of Nursing
Nebraska Wesleyan University

Professor Emeritus Richard Dienstbier has done it again. In 2015 I had the pleasure of reading Professor Dienstbiers wonderful book Building Resistance to Stress and Aging. In my opinion, as a physiologist, it remains one of the most accessible and important books when it comes to understanding stress and health. It is a book that anyone interested in physical and mental health should consider compulsory reading. With his new book, Professor Dienstbier has set a new bar for making the important science of nutrition, especially regarding brain health, accessible. I am aware of no other book on the market that covers the relevant subject matter in the way that Professor Dienstbier has managed to do. His extreme dedication to empirical accuracy is bar none. Not only does he manage a level of scientific accuracy that few others can, but Professor Dienstbier also writes with humor and a style that truly captivates. Anyone with an interest in the field of nutrition should consider this book a must-read.

Chris MacDonald
University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Professor Dientsbier takes us on a journey of discovery about what we consume and how it affects our cognitive functioning and aging. Written in his engaging, understandable, and humorous manner, he unravels the marvelous complexities of neurological and physiological systems and the chemicals responsible for cognitive advancement, healing, and delay. Given the dramatic increases in human longevity and filled with user-friendly recommendations, every reader is certain to be impacted by the recent advances in science on this most important topic.

Gustavo Carlo
Director, Cultural Resiliency and Learning Center
University of California, Irvine

"Food for Thought: Nutrition and the Aging Brain" presents and analyzes the research on nutrition’s impacts on the aging brain, on possibly-declining cognitive abilities, and on changing emotional dispositions.

With 40 pages of references, the depth of coverage of the underlying science makes the book appropriate for scientists in fields such as nutrition, geriatrics, and psychology. However, the book was also designed to be understandable for lay readers wanting a deeper understanding than can be found in typical books on food-brain relationships. To make this book useful for non-scientists and for students, the first three chapters provide background. They sketch relevant brain structure and neurochemistry, and then discuss in only slightly more detail how aging and stress affect neurochemistry, brain structure, cognitive capacities, and resilience. The third chapter introduces basic nutrition research issues, and the extensive Glossary provides additional explanations of scientific concepts.

The subsequent 14 chapters consolidate modern research on impacts of nutrition on brain and cognitive capacities. The research shows how much various nutrients can affect cognition in aging people, and then how those impacts are achieved—that is, how genes are affected that in turn have impacts on neural structures and neurochemistry. That series of 14 chapters begins with analyses of general diets such as the Mediterranean and the MIND, but subsequent chapters examine impacts of specific classes of nutrients. Chapter 18 describes nutrition that affects resilience, interpreted as stress tolerance, and resistance to both anxiety and depression.

Chapter 19 describes how other types of activities that affect brain and cognition, such as programs of physical exercise and cognitive stimulation, can interact with nutrition to build brain and sharpen cognition. The final chapter summarizes the information on nutrition impacts on brain and cognition, and extends the discussion of interactions of nutrition with other brain-enhancing activities.


Chapter 1. Basic Brain Processes and Genetics

Chapter 2. Aging and Stress Impact Brain, Cognition, and Resilience

Chapter 3. Nutrition Research: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Chapter 4. Complete Dietary Plans for Brains and Cognition

Chapter 5. Fats

Chapter 6. Phytonutrients

Chapter 7. Caffeine, Tea, and Coffee

Chapter 8. Vitamins through the B’s

Chapter 9. Other Vitamins and their Interactions

Chapter 10. Galvanizing Metals

Chapter 11. Spices

Chapter 12. Nutraceuticals plus Choline and Spermidine

Chapter 13. Alcohol I: Controversies

Chapter 14. Alcohol II: Red Resolutions

Chapter 15. Contented Mitochondria

Chapter 16. The Microbiome: Denizens of our Gut

Chapter 17. Intriguing Dietary Options

Chapter 18. Resilience: Resistance to Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Chapter 19. Nutrition Toughens Body, Brain, and Mind

Chapter 20. After Thoughts




After receiving his PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Rochester, Dienstbier joined the Psychology Department of the University of Nebraska, where he has spent his entire professional career. He served as the Head of that Social-Personality program and (for 8 years) as Psychology Department Chair. He was the Series Editor of the annual Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. He is now Professor Emeritus of Psychology.

Dienstbier’s interests in aging, stress, and emotion led to research and to graduate courses in research methods, emotion, and stress, with emphasis on how programs of regular exercise, mental stimulation, meditation, and even some social activities lead to modifications to both neurochemistry and neural structures. Those physiological modifications slow and even reverse the negative impacts of stress and aging on the brain, resulting in enhanced cognitive capacities and even resilience.

That research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health, and it ultimately led to his 2015 book "Building resistance to stress and aging: The toughness model" (published originally by Palgrave Macmillan, now Springer). Although that book described how much activities such as physical exercise and cognitive stimulation contribute to cognitive capacities and resilience, and how they lead to those benefits, an obviously missing piece was the contribution of nutrition to preserving cognitive capacity and resilience, especially in older people. Recognizing the importance of that missing element of nutrition led to research on how much and how major dietary programs and individual nutrients lead to the modifications to neurochemistry and neural structures that ultimately preserve cognition, defend against dementia, and lead to psychological resilience.

Resilience, aging, neuroscience, cognition, cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's dementia, neurotransmitters, neurotropins, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, alcohol, carbohydrates, physiological toughness, stress tolerance, stress, anxiety, depression, microbiome, mitochondria, alcohol, caffeine, coffee, tea, spices, Mediterranean diet, MIND diet, keto diet, research methods, fasting, calorie restriction

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Bibliographic Information

Book Title

Food for thought: Nutrition and the aging brain





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm


2 B&W

Publication date

September 2022