Vitamins and fish oil fatty acids can help prevent the brain shrinkage in older age and may also be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
A study by Oregon Health & Science University in Portland also found, conversely, that unhealthy trans-fats found in some convenience foods and margarine spreads were likely to promote brain shrinkage.
Scientists studied 104 individuals with an average age of 87 who had few risk factors for memory and thinking problems, by testing their blood for nutrients.
All the volunteers also had their memories and thinking skills tested while 42 of them had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to measure their brain volume.
The study, published online yesterday in the journal Neurology, found that those with diets high in omega 3 fatty acids and levels of C, D, E and B vitamins were less likely to experience brain shrinkage.
They also had higher mental performance scores than those with diets low in those nutrients.
Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D are primarily found in fish, while B vitamins and vitamins C and E can be obtained from meat, fruits and vegetables.
Study author Dr Gene Bowman said: “These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet.”