Brain health is a major concern as we age. Dementia, in particular, is a growing problem globally. According to the World Health Organization, 5 million people live with dementia, and that number is expected to triple by 2050 (8). There are many risk factors for dementia, including age, genetics, and lifestyle choices. But one of the most important things we can do to help protect our brain health is to eat a healthy diet. Studies have suggested that certain dietary patterns may help protect the brain from damage and improve cognitive function (20). In this article, we’ll review some of the best foods for brain health and explore other lifestyle changes that might help to prevent dementia.
What Causes Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of degenerative neurological conditions that cause cognitive decline and impairments in daily functioning (7).
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60–80% of all cases. But there are many other types, including Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and vascular dementia (7).
Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. The majority of people with the condition are 65 or older. But it’s not just a disease of the elderly. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease can occur in people as young as 40 (25).
Dementia is also more common in women than men. This may be due to a combination of biological and social factors (4).
For example, women tend to live longer than men, so they have a greater chance of developing this condition. Women are also more likely to be caregivers for people with dementia, which can be a stressful experience that takes a toll on their health.
Other risk factors for dementia include genetics, head injuries, smoking, and chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension (9).
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to preventing dementia. But research has shown that certain lifestyle choices may play a big role in brain health.
The MIND Diet For Alzheimer’s And Other Forms Of Dementia
The MIND diet is a plant-based diet that emphasizes 10 brain-healthy food groups: green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine (17). It is essentially a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diets.
Studies have shown that people who follow the MIND diet may have a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia (12).
In one study, people who adhered most closely to the MIND diet had a 53% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (17).
Another study found that the MIND diet could reduce the risk of cognitive impairment (18).
Read More: MIND Diet Recipes To Consider For Improved Brain Health
Foods To Prevent Dementia: How Does The MIND Diet Work?
The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (17).
The Mediterranean diet is mostly plant-based and includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and olive oil. It’s been shown to potentially reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other chronic conditions (6).
The DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure, and some research suggests it may also help to protect the brain from damage (5).
Both of these diets have been shown to promote brain health. The MIND diet includes the best of both of these diets, with a focus on foods that have been linked to brain health. It adds some specific recommendations, such as eating more leafy green vegetables and berries to boost cognitive function.
This is thought to protect the brain by reducing inflammation and promoting blood flow. Inflammation is a known risk factor for dementia, while blood flow is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
The MIND diet may also help to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases that can damage the brain, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity (2).
Best Foods To Prevent Dementia
The MIND diet emphasizes 10 brain-healthy food groups that help prevent dementia: green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine.
Here’s why each of these foods is perfect for brain health
Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are loaded with nutrients that are essential for brain health.
These include vitamins C, E, and K, as well as carotenoids and flavonoids. These nutrients have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help protect the brain from damage and disease (1).
In addition, green leafy vegetables are a good source of folate, a B vitamin that may help to prevent cognitive decline (29).
All vegetables are good for the brain, but some are especially beneficial. These include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, as well as root vegetables like carrots and beets.
These vegetables are rich in nutrients that protect the brain, including vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and flavonoids (1).
They’re also a good source of fiber, which is essential for gut health. Gut health is important for brain health, as the gut and brain are connected by the vagus nerve (28).
Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They’re especially high in vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that protects the brain from damage (13).
Some nuts are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health. These fatty acids help to reduce inflammation and protect the brain from damage (thus, nuts are among necessary foods to prevent dementia) (16).
Some of the best nuts for brain health include walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts.
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Berries are packed with nutrients that are essential for brain health. These include vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and flavonoids (19). Berries are also a good source of fiber, which is important for gut health (15).
Some of the best berries for brain health include blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.
Beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and B vitamins. They’re also a good source of iron, magnesium, and potassium. These nutrients are essential for brain health (3).
Poultry is a good source of protein, B vitamins, and iron. These nutrients are important for brain health (3). Poultry is also a lean source of protein, which is important for maintaining a healthy weight and is good for heart health.
Fish is an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins. These nutrients are essential for brain health (14).
Some of the best fish for brain health include salmon, tuna, and sardines.
Olive oil is a good source of healthy fats and antioxidants. The healthy fats in olive oil may help to reduce inflammation and promote heart health, while the antioxidants protect the brain from damage (11).
Moderate consumption of wine may be associated with better cognitive function (23). This is thought to be due to the antioxidants in wine, which protect the brain from damage. Red wine may be especially beneficial, as it’s a good source of resveratrol. This is a compound that has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (23).
However, there are also risks to alcohol consumption (including for brain health) and it is generally not recommended to start drinking if you currently do not. If you already enjoy wine regularly, just keep it to no more than one glass per day.
Are There Foods That Cause Dementia?
Certain foods have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. These include processed and red meats, fried foods, refined carbs, and high fat dairy.
Processed And Red Meats
Processed meats like bacon, sausage, and deli meat are high in saturated fat and sodium. These nutrients are thought to increase the risk of dementia (21). The MIND diet also recommends limiting all red meat products to no more than 3 servings per week.
Fried foods are high in unhealthy fats and calories. They cause weight gain, which is a risk factor for dementia (10).
Refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, white, rice, sweets, and pastries are low in fiber and nutrients. They’re quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, which can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Diabetes and problems with glucose metabolism may be linked to dementia (21). The MIND diet recommends including more whole grains and limiting sweets and pastries.
High Fat Dairy
The MIND diet also recommends limiting cheese and butter due to their high saturated fat content. It suggests using olive oil as your primary cooking oil.
Read More: The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid: Use This To Start A Heart-Healthy Way Of Eating
Lifestyle Changes That May Help Prevent Dementia
In addition to eating a brain-healthy diet, other lifestyle changes may help to prevent dementia. These include:
Regular exercise is associated with a lower risk of dementia. This is thought to be because exercise improves cardiovascular health, which in turn helps protect the brain (22).
Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is important for brain health. It helps reduce inflammation and protect the brain from damage. Getting enough sleep is also important for maintaining a healthy weight, which is another factor that contributes to brain health (26).
The average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Some ways to improve sleep include:
- Establishing a regular sleep schedule
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed
- Creating a relaxing bedtime routine
Chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of dementia. This is thought to be because stress increases inflammation and damages the brain (27). Managing stress through relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation may help reduce the risk of dementia.
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Smoking is a major risk factor for dementia. This is thought to be because smoking damages the brain and increases inflammation. Cessation of smoking may help to reduce the risk of dementia (24).
Staying Socially Active
Staying socially active is important for brain health. This is because social interaction helps keep the brain active and engaged. Additionally, social support can help reduce stress levels.
Foods To Prevent Dementia: Conclusion
Many factors contribute to brain health. Eating a brain-healthy diet and making lifestyle changes like exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress may help to reduce the risk of dementia. Cessation of smoking is also an important step in protecting the brain.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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