In 2014, it was estimated that 5 million adults over the age of 65 have dementia. That number is projected to increase to nearly 14 million by 2060. The rate is rising, and a new study finds that our dietary decisions may be to blame. The study, published in the journal Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, showed that a diet low in fruits, vegetables, beans and tea liked a threefold greater risk of dementia.
The observational study was conducted in 1,059 Greek individuals with an average age of 73 and over a three-year period. Participants conducted questionnaires and were assessed for a score associated with inflammatory factors associated with their food choices. Researchers have found that the higher the score, the higher the risk for dementia. The study was observational, meaning that the removal of the data can only show that there is an association (but not definitive evidence) that anti-inflammatory diets may play a role in the prevention of dementia.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe various brain-related indicators associated with impaired memory, decision-making, and reasoning, however, the symptoms of dementia may vary from individual to individual. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.
What factors relate to an increased risk of dementia?
Advanced age, genetics and ethnicity can all play a role in the risk of dementia. They are not changeable, that is, they are not changeable. The good news, though, is this: another important factor associated with dementia is you can control. Via diet.
5 ways to protect your brain from dementia
Many studies have shown that lifestyle choices play a big role in brain health. How you approach your diet is the first step.
1. Follow a MIND dietary approach
Perhaps the most studied diet related to brain health is the MIND (Mediterranean – DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay) diet. The diet consists of ten healthy foods and five foods to limit. Adherence to the MIND diet has been shown in multiple studies to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 53% when followed rigorously. Even moderate enrollment led to a 35% decreased risk.
2. Focus on more color in the diet
Color is an important factor in both the MIND and Mediterranean dietary protocols. This is because color, coming from green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, berries, beans, teas, peppers, spices and even coffee indicates a high degree of nutrient density. A 2021 study showed that colorful plants that are rich in flavonoids helped reduce cognitive decline in participants who consumed only ½ a portion per day of these brain-protective foods. The more flavonoids consumed, the lower the risk.
3. Enter your protein
An animal study in 2021 demonstrated that lower protein diets could have a detrimental effect on brain health. Specifically, researchers have found that amino acids (derived from protein in the diet) can prevent the formation of Alzheimer’s disease by preventing brain cell death and reducing inflammation. You can get high quality protein from plants (like beans and legumes) as well as animals (like chicken breast, fatty fish and eggs). If supplemental protein is needed, high-quality protein powder can help as well. Precise protein needs vary with age and activity level.
4. Eliminate added sugars from the diet
While adding nutrient-dense foods is essential to protect overall brain health, removing more problematic ingredients is also critical. Studies show that added sugar – often found in sugary sweetened beverages and cereals, sweets and pastries – can increase the risk of multiple chronic conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Both conditions are linked with deterioration of brain health.
5. Replace processed foods with real foods
Processed foods (often called very tasty foods) not only obscure your brain’s ability to assess hunger – which means you can easily eat large amounts – they replace more nutritious dense foods in the diet. An Ohio State University animal study found that just four weeks of consumption of processed foods caused memory loss and increased inflammation in rats. However, when the rats received omega-3 supplements, their symptoms decreased.
Author Michael Pollan defined food as “something that comes from nature, has been nourished by nature, and then rots.” Eating more food and fewer manufactured calories can be a great step toward boosting brain health. Instead of a frozen dinner with several ingredients, for example, choose grilled salmon with a side of broccoli, or withered spinach with lentils and brown rice. For snacks, remove the potato chips and replace them with mixed nuts, roasted chickpeas or celery with almond butter.
Protecting our brains as we age is feasible. Get more nutritional benefit for your dollar by choosing nutrient-dense foods – and give your brain the TLC it deserves.