As we age, there is nothing more concerning than the idea we may develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Small moments of forgetting a person’s name or losing our keys lead to worries that Alzheimer’s is on its way.
But, did you know that embracing a healthy lifestyle is your best way to prevent or slow dementia? One aspect of living a holistic and healthy life is choosing the right foods to eat.
Moreover, what does the research say about an Alzheimer’s natural diet and preventing dementia? You might be surprised to know that doctors and scientists have identified several specific ways of eating that can improve your chances of preventing dementia.
We’ll review each one of these diets and provide a list of the best foods to be eating for a healthy brain.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a common condition in which proteins build up in the brain, brain cells die and parts of the brain shrink. Alzheimer’s patients suffer from memory loss and are often unable to carry out simple tasks or take care of themselves.
There is no one thing you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But scientists have discovered that the more aspects of a healthy lifestyle that you adopt — such as choosing the right foods to eat, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep — the more likely you are to prevent dementia.
Possible Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
In studying the possible causes of Alzheimer’s, researchers are beginning to understand the link between inflammation in your body and the buildup of proteins in your brain and the development of Alzheimer’s.
Inflammation is a natural response in your body to fight against things like bacteria, toxins, and injuries. With chronic inflammation, your body will continue to fight even when it doesn’t need to. We’re learning that many things — including an unhealthy lifestyle — can contribute to chronic inflammation.
In particular, the foods you eat can cause inflammation. A diet full of red meat, processed foods, and sugar leads to inflammation throughout your body, including your brain.
Diet has become one of the critical factors to pay attention to in preventing Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Diet
Research shows that when trying to prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s natural diet options are better for you than a traditional Western diet.
A traditional Western diet is also known as an American diet, although many countries in the world have been shifting to this unhealthy way of eating. It is low in whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, and contains large amounts of pre-packaged and processed foods, red meat, saturated fats, and sugar.
When trying to prevent Alzheimer’s natural diet choices should be ones that are plant-based. This includes a vegan diet, vegetarian, Mediterranean, and others. Plant-based diets are ones in which most foods come from plants with small amounts of animal products — if any at all.
An increasing amount of research is revealing that diet plays a big role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. But which diet should you focus on for your brain health?
There are three styles of eating that top the research:
- The Mediterranean Diet
- The DASH Diet
- The MIND Diet
The Mediterranean Diet: A Great Alzheimer’s Natural Diet
A great Alzheimer’s natural diet for prevention is the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet is named after the style of eating found in countries around the Mediterranean Sea — Italy, Greece, Spain, and France.
The closer you follow the Mediterranean diet, the more you lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Not only can eating this way help with your memory, but it also reduces levels of proteins in your brain and keeps your brain from shrinking.
Foods eaten on the Mediterranean diet include lots of:
- Whole grains
- Extra virgin olive oil
Plus, moderate amounts of:
- Lean poultry
On the Mediterranean diet, foods to avoid are:
- Saturated fats — as found in red meat and butter
- Processed meats — such as lunch meat, sausage, and bacon
- Processed cheeses — such as Velveeta and American
- Processed foods — ones that contain sugar, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors
- Hydrogenated oils — such as vegetable, soybean, corn, canola, and safflower
- Refined grains — white grains such as rice, flour, bread, and pasta
The DASH Diet: A Promising Alzheimer’s Natural Diet
Another good Alzheimer’s natural diet to prevent cognitive decline is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This way of eating was first developed in the late 1990s in response to studies done to determine the best diet to lower high blood pressure. It also has been shown to be effective in improving conditions such as high cholesterol and diabetes.
The DASH diet recommendations are very much like those of the Mediterranean diet. They both focus on increasing the amounts of plant-based foods and limiting saturated fats and processed foods.
However, where the Mediterranean diet emphasizes fish and seafood as sources of protein, the DASH diet allows for more lean meats and poultry. The DASH diet limits alcohol and sodium, while the Mediterranean diet allows for wine.
Following the DASH diet may be a good option for you if you can’t eat (or don’t like) seafood and fish. Like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet can improve cognitive function, especially when combined with aerobic exercise.
The MIND Diet: The Best Alzheimer’s Natural Diet
According to all the latest research, the top Alzheimer’s natural diet is the MIND diet — a new diet developed in 2015 specifically to protect brain health — more so than the Mediterranean or DASH diets. All three diets are similar plant-based diets and focus on whole grains, fish, and lean meats. But the MIND diet differs in that it has more specifications.
There are ten “brain-healthy” food groups and five food groups to avoid. Berries are the only type of fruit included and they only allow for one serving of a non-leafy vegetable per day — salads and dark leafy greens for the rest of your vegetable servings.
Cheese, butter, and fried foods are limited to one small serving per week. Red meats, sodium, and sugary foods are all to be avoided.
Is it worth it to follow the restrictions of the MIND diet?
Yes! The MIND diet can decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53% for those who follow it closely and 35% for people who follow it moderately well.
6 Must-Have Foods to Include in an Alzheimer’s Natural Diet
Now that you know which diet plans are the best for brain health, you may be wondering which foods to eat for an Alzheimer’s natural diet. When making a shift to your eating, sometimes it’s best to start with small changes.
Our list of the best foods to include in an Alzheimer’s natural diet can get you started with making some of these changes. Swap some of your usual foods for these and you’ll be on your way to a brain-healthy diet.
1. Wild-Caught Fatty Fish
A key food to include in any Alzheimer’s natural diet is fish. Four or more servings per week of all types of fish are associated with lowering your risk of cognitive decline. But for the best results, choose fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Cold-water fish, such as salmon and tuna, are especially rich in an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Higher levels of DHA in the blood cut the risk of Alzheimer’s by 49%!
Fish with the highest amounts of DHA include:
- Rainbow trout
- Sea bass
2. Green Leafy Vegetables
Any good Alzheimer’s natural diet must also include a daily serving of green leafy vegetables. Older adults who eat more leafy greens (more than one serving per day) significantly slow cognitive decline and have brain performance equal to those 11 years younger.
Dark green leafy vegetables to include in your diet are kale, spinach, collards, and lettuce.
3. Blueberries and Other Berries
Blueberries are a superfood that should be included in your Alzheimer’s natural diet. The MIND diet only recommends berries as the type of fruit to eat.
Moreover, a recent study has shown that blueberry supplementation especially improves memory and other cognitive functions.
Whether you enjoy blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or other kinds of berries, make this simple switch from other types of fruit to keep your brain healthy.
4. Whole Grains
While too many carbs are generally not good for you, the right kind of carbs — such as those found in whole grains — can protect your brain.
Make some easy changes in your diet from white bread and pasta to whole grains. Look for brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta.
5. Nuts and Seeds
Many nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids. A small daily serving of nuts or seeds can help increase the amount of DHA in your blood and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Watch the portion sizes, however. With nuts and seeds, it’s easy to eat too many and start gaining weight.
Aim for a 1-ounce serving of nuts or seeds each day. Some of the best ones to choose from are:
- Chia seeds
6. Beans and Legumes
Beans are another food rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They are also a great source of protein. Adults who eat lower amounts of beans and legumes have greater rates of cognitive decline. Eating more beans each day — such as kidney, pinto, and black beans, as well as lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes — can have a great effect on your brain health.
Make a Change for Brain Health
Following a specific Alzheimer’s natural diet may be key to preventing or reversing cognitive decline. Make small changes at first, and move towards one that is more plant-based and filled with some of the must-have foods from our list.