After nearly 15 years serving families in the elder care industry, I am excited about some of the latest science that suggests lifestyle choices make a difference when it comes to Alzheimer’s and other dementias’ prevention. Of course, it means we must take responsibility for ourselves.
But the best part is that we can start at any time to improve our health by following what are called Six Pillars of Brain Health. We can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias by eating right, exercising, staying mentally and socially active, and keeping stress in check.
Studies seem to show, too, that by leading a brain-healthy lifestyle, we may not only be able to prevent Alzheimer’s symptoms but we may be able to slow down, or even reverse, the process of deterioration.
In this blog I want to report on some “mind-blowing” (excuse the pun) research that supports the “healthy diet” pillar about the relationship of diet and nutrition to Alzheimer’s prevention.
The Mediterranean Diet
We have been hearing about the healthful benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for some time. According to helpguide.org, it is both brain and heart healthy. It’s a diet rich in fish, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, and abundant fresh produce. It also incorporates the occasional glass of red wine and square of dark chocolate.
Mediterranean Diet tips:
- Avoid full-fat dairy products, red meat, fast food, fried foods, and packaged and processed foods.
- Get plenty of omega-3 fats. Evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Food sources include cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, and sardines. You can also supplement with fish oil.
- Eat 4-6 small meals throughout the day, rather than 3 large meals. Eating at regular intervals helps to maintain consistent blood sugar levels.
- Also avoid refined carbohydrates high in sugar and white flour, which rapidly spike glucose levels and inflame your brain.
- Eat across the rainbow. Emphasize fruits and vegetables across the color spectrum to maximize protective antioxidants and vitamins.
- Daily servings of berries and green leafy vegetables should be part of your brain-protective regimen.
- Enjoy daily cups of tea. Regular consumption of green tea may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging. White and oolong teas are also particularly brain healthy. Drinking 2-4 cups daily has proven benefits. Although not as powerful as tea, coffee also confers brain benefits.
The MIND Diet
The MIND diet borrows from both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which is designed to help control blood pressure. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “A Diet Might Cut the Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s” author Sumathi Reddy describes studies that show the efficacy of this diet.
While all three are largely plant-based, the MIND diet particularly emphasizes eating “brain healthy” foods such as green, leafy vegetables, berries and other foods.
Here is the scoop on research conducted comparing to the three diets at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. It found that strict adherence to all three diets lessened the chances of getting Alzheimer’s. But only the MIND diet seemed to help counter the disease even when people followed only some of the diet’s recommendations.
Now, that association between eating “brain healthy” foods and prevention is very important because most of us have difficulty sticking to a healthy diet in general. But it is certainlty wirth the effort, given according to the Alzheimer’s Association about 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, a number that is expected to grow to 7.1 million in 2025.
The MIND diet has 15 dietary components
The MIND diet includes at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day—along with a glass of wine. It also involves snacking most days on nuts and eating beans every other day or so, poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week.
Dieters must limit eating the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, according to a study by Rush University Medical Center researchers.
10 healthy groups:
Green leafy vegetables
Berries (especially blueberries)
The five unhealthy groups are:
Butter and stick margarine
Pastries and sweets
Fried or fast food
“The MIND diet may be a triple bonus. It reduces the risk for dementia, strokes and heart disease,” said Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and an Alzheimer’s expert.
What do you think about the MIND diet? Is it doable?