Food and Dementia: Does Diet Reduce the Risk?

While it’s normal to experience occasional forgetfulness as we age, like misplacing our glasses or missing an appointment, memory loss is not a normal part of aging. However, it’s a condition that many older adults experience. In fact, nearly 5 million Americans, aged 65 and older, have been diagnosed with a form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Dementia is an overall term used to describe a wide range of medical conditions caused by abnormal brain changes.” Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, accounts for nearly 60-80% of all dementia cases.

While Alzheimer’s and dementia can show up differently in each person, many have problems with short-term memory, remembering appointments and trouble with comprehension, especially when it comes to finances. While we can’t completely eliminate our risk of developing dementia, there are simple things we can do to decrease it. In fact, it can be as simple as eating a healthy diet.

Diet and its Effect on Dementia

It’s been proven that diet can have a profound impact on our overall health, especially as we age. While research is somewhat limited, there are three diets that have been linked to decreasing the risk of dementia.

The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH)

According to the Cleveland Clinic, researchers traditionally thought a high sodium diet resulted in high blood pressure. However, sodium can have a different effect on different people. This prompted further research to study how different diets can impact blood pressure. The DASH diet, which is heavily focused on fruits and vegetables, was found to lower blood pressure significantly. Because heart disease is a common risk factor for dementia, the DASH diet has been encouraged by many researchers as a way to decrease that risk. Those who follow the DASH diet aim to reduce their blood pressure by:

• Eating foods low in fat and cholesterol
• Eating mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts
• Decreasing the amount of red meats, sweets and sugar-based beverages

The Mediterranean Diet

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by abnormal build-up of proteins around our brain cells. The Mediterranean Diet, which includes high levels of antioxidants, can actually protect our brain cells from damage, while also reducing brain inflammation and lowering cholesterol. This diet primarily focuses on fruit, healthy fats, herbs, fish and poultry, while limiting consumption of butter, red meat and salt.

The MIND Diet

This diet is specifically designed to prevent dementia in older adults. The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet were combined to create Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND. A study published by Rush University Medical Center showed that, “the MIND diet lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53% in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously and by 35% in those who followed it moderately well.” To create the MIND diet, researchers combined elements of both diets and added emphasis on foods that were shown to benefit brain health.

Foods to Eat on the MIND Diet

According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers found that older adults, “whose diets most closely resembled the pattern laid out in the MIND diet had brains as sharp as people 7.5 years younger.” While the MIND diet closely resembles foods found in the DASH and Mediterranean diets, it focuses strictly on foods closely linked to dementia prevention. According to Healthline Magazine, these are the main food types eaten when following the MIND diet:

• Green leafy vegetables including kale, spinach and greens are packed with vitamins A and C and other nutrients. Researchers have suggested that consuming six servings or more provide the greatest benefits.

• All other vegetables are packed with nutrients and fiber that are good for overall health. These are recommended in addition to green leafy vegetables.

• Berries- When creating the MIND diet, researchers found that berries in particular are excellent for improving cognitive function and protecting the brain. Researchers suggest eating berries at least twice a week.

• Nuts contain healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants and can even lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. The MIND diet suggests consuming five servings of nuts per week.

• Olive Oil is a recommended alternative for butter. Studies have shown that olive oil can protect against cognitive decline.

• Whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, bread and quinoa should be consumed three times a day when following the MIND diet.

• Fish such as tuna, salmon and trout are high in omega-3 fatty acids and can help protect brain function. Unlike the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet suggests consuming fish once a week.

• Beans are high in fiber and protein, but low in fat and calories. Beans can help you feel full and provide you with nutrients while also keeping your brain sharp.

• Poultry such as chicken and turkey are recommended twice a week.

• Wine- Research shows that red wine can help protect against Alzheimer’s. However, the MIND diet recommends consuming no more than one glass per day.

Healthy Eating Tips for Dementia Prevention

Making drastic changes to your diet can be difficult. If the MIND diet isn’t for you, there are still plenty of ways to use your diet to reduce your risk of dementia. There are certain foods to help prevent dementia that you can consume to help keep your mind healthy. You might consider adopting some of these simple habits to protect your brain without following a strict food plan:

Cut down on sugar
Food and beverages that contain sugar such as soda and refined carbs, can cause our blood sugar levels to rise rapidly, which can inflame the brain. Before eating packaged foods, be sure to read the nutrition label and check for added sugar.

Consume omega 3 fats
Omega 3 fats contain docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which is thought to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Omega 3 fats are found in salmon, tuna, trout and mackerel. If you prefer not to eat fish, you can supplement with fish oil.

Increase fruits and vegetables
Both fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants and can prevent inflammation. While berries are directly linked to brain health, all fruits and vegetables help to protect your body from illness.

Cook at home
When we prepare our own meals, we have control over what ingredients we are using and what we are consuming. While eating at restaurants and picking up take-out can be delicious and convenient, there might be hidden sugar and unhealthy fats.

Drink in moderation
While one glass of wine per day is linked to brain health, overdrinking can raise the risk of memory related diseases.

Preventing Dementia at Maplewood Senior Living

Health is a top priority at Maplewood Senior Living . That’s why each community offers a wide variety of meal and food options to keep our residents physically and mentally healthy. If you’d like to learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us here.

One Reply to “Food and Dementia: Does Diet Reduce the Risk?”

  1. Glad I read this. Offers simple, everyday foods to incorporate into meals which help to lessen the risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Bravo and Brava, Maplewood

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