Nutrition and Dementia: 5 foodie thoughts

By Marion Foreman. Published 2020-08-22
BOLD-Wellbeing
Research shows a healthy lifestyle lessens your chances of developing dementia or helps in slowing it's progression if you do get it.

This week we are considering one of my favourite subjects, food, and if what we eat makes any difference to the chances of us getting dementia. Also, if we or someone we care for has the condition does food help us to manage the disease.

There is plenty of research that shows leading a healthy lifestyle can lessen your chances of developing dementia and help you slow the progression of the disease if you do get it. 

It is suggested that there are 6 pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention; - Regular exercise - Social engagement - Healthy diet - Mental stimulation - Quality sleep - Stress management

So, what constitutes a healthy diet? 

It’s really the same as nutritionists would recommend for people of all ages.

Why does diet matter for people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s? 

In Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation and insulin resistance injure neurons and inhibit communication between brain cells.  This is so marked that sometimes Alzheimer’s is described as diabetes of the brain’.   Adjusting eating habits can help to reduce inflammation and protect your brain. 

Cut down on sugar – sugary foods and refined carbs will lead to blood sugar spikes which can inflame your brain.  Refined carbs are things such as white flour, white rice and white pasta.  So, the foodstuffs to cut down or cut out are the obvious things such as sweets, chocolate, cake and biscuits.  Amongst other things to watch are white bread, potatoes, crisps, pancake and refined breakfast cereals.  It’s well worth reading the cereal packets carefully.  They may say that they are enriched with various vitamins – but their sugar content is often very high (you are aiming for less than 5gms of sugar per 100gms of food).  Look carefully too at such things as ‘low fat’ items – often these have added sugar to make them palatable – you are better off eating the higher fat option.  Look too at such things as pasta sauces, often high in sugar.  As a rule of thumb, avoid, wherever possible, processed foods such as ready-made meals and cereal bars

Eat a Mediterranean diet.  Several studies show that a diet rich in vegetables, beans, whole grains, fish and olive oil will dramatically reduce the risk of cognitive impairment.  And again – the Mediterranean diet does not contain processed foods.   

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Have plenty of omega-3 fats.  These fats may help to reduce the beta-amyloid plaques that build up and cause the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Omega 3 fats are found in cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines.  If you struggle to get enough of these in your diet you can supplement with fish oil.

Cook at home from scratch as often as you can – keep what you cook low in sugar, low in salt, low in unhealthy fats and avoid additives.  Include plenty of fresh fish, veg and fruit.

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Watch your portion size.  Being overweight does none of us any good and is another risk factor for dementia.  Even if the food is a ‘good’ one you can still have far too much.  It can help if you eat mindfully (not whilst watching the TV or reading – but concentrating on the food and relishing each mouthful).  Eating with other people can make the whole occasion more fun and sociable – rather than just grabbing a quick meal without really thinking about it. 

A few simple ideas that will make a big difference to both avoiding and managing dementia. 

  • The BBC have a great article which you can find here
  • Dementia UK looks at eating and drinking for a person with dementia in the link here. they also have a number of other sources they point to in the article
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