Did you know? In 2018, 50 million people were living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia around the world. Experts projected that the number could reach 152 million by 2050 if treatment options remain limited to what we currently have. From roughly US$1 trillion in 2018, the worldwide cost of dementia will hit US$2 trillion by 2030, leaving a massive impact on the healthcare industry.
Diet Tweaks to Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s
Apart from the economic implications, the financial impact of Alzheimer’s affects every family member in the form of long-term care costs. Hence, experts are looking at lifestyle and diet as possible solutions to lessen the risk of cognitive disorders.
Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets
While there’s no silver bullet that can fully prevent Alzheimer’s disease, several studies have discovered that certain foods can reduce one’s risk of dementia. The spotlight of these studies is the Mediterranean diet. Evidence suggests that incorporating this kind of diet that mainly includes leafy greens, fruits, legumes, fish, and other seafood, may help improve cardiovascular health and mitigate the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
There’s also the DASH or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, a kind of diet that helps control blood pressure. Many prior studies have found that high blood pressure increases the risk of vascular dementia. So, by consuming foods rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium, one can minimize the risk of this kind of dementia and other cognitive diseases.
Apart from these two, experts also study the MIND diet as another approach to preventing brain health decline.
What is the MIND diet?
The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay Diet, popularly known as the MIND diet, combines principles from two other famous diets: the Mediterranean and the DASH diet.
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by people's eating habits in Mediterranean countries. On the other hand, the DASH diet started in the 1990s as a research project to determine if dietary interventions could help treat hypertension. At that time, nearly 30% of Americans were hypertensive. The National Institute of Health (NIH) funded the project to control the risk of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and coronary artery disease.
The MIND diet principle
Combining the beneficial dynamics of both the Mediterranean and DASH diets forms the MIND diet principle that includes 10 food groups to consume and 5 to limit.
Here are the 10 foods found in the MIND diet plate:
- Green, leafy vegetables
- All other vegetables
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
- Wine (no more than one glass per day)
And here are the foods to eat less:
- Red meat
- Fried food
Selections of foods included in the MIND diet are rich in antioxidants. Experts believe that antioxidants may help prevent Alzheimer’s because they can reduce oxidative stress or the imbalance between antioxidant defenses and free radicals in the body.
If there are fewer antioxidants to balance out the free radicals, the excess free radicals can harm and even kill the brain cells, increasing the risk of Parkinson’s disease. People with this condition develop dementia later on.
Additionally, the MIND diet also lessens the possibility of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and hypertension — all are known risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
7 Foods to Fight Alzheimer’s Disease
While there’s no cure or medication to reverse Alzheimer’s and dementia, experts suggest including these seven specific foods on your senior loved one’s daily plate to help the brain stay healthy.
1. Leafy greens
Studies that compared fruit and vegetable intake and cognitive decline discovered that green leafy vegetables provided the most brain protection. Leafy greens are rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants, and essential vitamins, like B9 and folate, which boost cognition and lower the chances of depression.
These green leafy vegetables include:
- Collard Greens
- Romaine Lettuce
- Leaf Lettuce
- Swiss Chard
Here’s a tip: Instead of just serving plain salads to your senior mom or dad, why not add greens to your other recipes? Add these vegetables to stews, chilis, and soups, or purée and add them to pesto, sauces, and hummus.2. Fatty fish
Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Research suggests that these fatty acids can prevent and improve several neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s and other dementias, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and depression.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid in cold-water, fatty fish, like salmon, seaweed, and fish oil supplements. Experts recommend taking 200 mg of DHA daily to achieve good brain health, which is about two to three servings of fatty fish each week. However, most Americans’ only consume an estimated 80 mg of DHA daily.
If your senior mom has an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, prominent symptoms may include poor memory, cardiovascular concerns, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and mood swings. Adding omega-3-rich foods to their plate may help relieve some of these symptoms. DHA supplements are also an option but check with your family doctor first.3. Nuts
Cashews, almonds, walnuts, and pecans are all loaded with vitamin E, B, magnesium, and healthy fats — all of which promote good cognition and improve dementia symptoms.
A study involving women over 70 found that those who ate five or more servings of nuts every week experienced better cognitive function compared to those who didn’t eat nuts. Participants who ate nuts also had better scores in the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status (TICS), a standardized cognitive functioning test given over the phone. They also showed superior language skills, memory recall, and attention span than non-consumers of nuts.
Another study also discovered that the anti-inflammatory phytochemicals in English walnuts could reduce brain cell inflammation, helping maintain optimal brain health as one ages.4. Herbs and spices
Spices don’t just add that extra kick to your food — they’re also good for the brain. Spices like cinnamon, turmeric, rosemary, cumin, and sage taste great when used to season meals. But did you know they’re also rich in polyphenols, which are organic compounds with high antioxidants that provide numerous benefits for the brain? What’s more, some herbs and spices can reduce brain plaque and inflammation and cut down the risk of dementia.
So instead of serving fast food items, home-cooked meals seasoned with nutritious herbs and spices are tastier and healthier.5. Olive oil
Olive oil is one of the many popular healthy fats and a must-have in most brain-boosting diets. The best thing about olive oil is that the body can use it as a “cleaner” and more efficient energy source than carbs.
Carbs are the body’s primary energy source, but they turn into glucose for energy. Meanwhile, healthy fats are broken down to form ketone bodies as a more efficient fuel.
Furthermore, the monounsaturated fats or “good” fats in olive oil can also help lower cholesterol levels. Eating foods rich in monounsaturated fat increases one’s high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels or “good” cholesterol and lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels or “bad” cholesterol. Why is this important? Research shows a direct link between bad cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. Cholesterol controls the beta-amyloid proteins that form plaques and cause illnesses.
So do your loved one a favor by switching to olive oil from partially hydrogenated oil or palm oil for frying and cooking.6. Tea
If your senior loved one isn’t a tea drinker, it may be time to add it to their favorite beverages. Based on selected studies, green tea may have positive effects on lowering the risk of mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. But experts need further research to prove such a claim as other studies that considered different types of tea found conflicting results.
Green tea is rich in catechins, a type of flavonoid. Catechins are powerful antioxidants and have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Hence, some researchers agreed that green tea could be excellent for brain health due to its protective properties.7. Wine
Does your elderly loved one enjoy a glass of wine now and then? Well, good for them.
Wine contains many chemicals, including antioxidants and phytochemicals, that may promote long-term brain health when consumed moderately.
While excessive drinking can elevate the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, which are common factors for developing cognitive impairment, light to moderate wine consumption (one to three drinks per day) may lower the risk of any dementia.
That said, you and your loved one can enjoy a glass of wine without guilt.
Foods to Minimize or Avoid
As equally important as adding brain-boosting foods to your diet is minimizing what’s bad. Some foods can increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, such as red and processed meats, sweets, and refined grains.
Additionally, eating saturated fatty acids, high-calorie foods, and drinking too much alcohol harms the brain. If your senior parent can’t avoid them altogether, let them eat less of these foods.
The Bottom Line
There are plenty of foods you can include in your loved one’s diet to improve their brain health. If you’re in charge of meal preparation but don’t know what these foods are, ask for advice from your doctor.
Leafy greens, fatty fish, spices, tea, wine, nuts, and healthy oils are generally good for health. These foods can enhance cognitive functions and lower the chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, if your loved one has complex medical conditions, be sure to talk with your doctor or nutritionist to create a personalized diet plan.
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.