What Is Dementia?
Most Australians know of someone who has experienced dementia. Dementia is a term that includes a range of conditions that cause symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills. This might mean they’re forgetful, confused or repeat the same sentence multiple times. People with dementia sometimes don’t recognise family members, put things away in weird places or get things ‘muddled up’ often. Sometimes people with dementia even forget to eat! It typically occurs more later in life, however it can occur earlier in adulthood and is also associated with Down Syndrome.
Why Is It A Problem?
In ageing populations, such as Australia, our future health has never been more important (because more of us are going to live long enough to experience it!). Have you considered that what you do now can have a real impact on your future healthcare needs?
Globally speaking, dementia-related conditions are on the rise with the number of cases doubling since 2016. Dementia-related illnesses can place a significant burden on families and loved ones, both financially and emotionally. Currently, there is no known cure and few treatment options. So, our best strategy is to reduce your risk and prevent it from happening in the first place.
A scary statistic is that about 48% of people with dementia are linked to modifiable and preventable conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression. That, of course, means that 52% of people with dementia can do nothing about it – it’s caused by genetics or another non-modifiable risk factor they can do nothing about, such as becoming more life experienced (AKA older).
What Can I Do To Reduce the Risk Of Dementia?
Diet, exercise, medications and cognitive training are just a few things that can be modified to achieve risk reduction for dementia. While we can’t stop ageing or change our genetics (just yet), we can control what we do and eat. We can exercise regularly, get plenty of regular sleep (a healthy 8 hours), stop (or don’t start) smoking and eat well (see below for more on this point).
Can Diet Impact My Risk Of Dementia?
A significant amount of research has occurred in the diet/dementia space and a lot of it has come out of Australia (yay for Aussie ingenuity!). Certainly, we know controlling weight, blood pressure, diabetes and managing depression will reduce your chances of experiencing dementia. Research has shown that changes in diet also has the potential to improve cognition (thinking) and memory.
For example, the “DASH” diet, which stands for, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was developed to manage blood pressure. It’s mainly based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet. It’s low in salt and very high in fresh fruit (particularly bananas), vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, legumes, dairy and eggs.
There’s also the “MIND” Diet, which stands for, Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. This is essentially a modified version of the DASH diet with an emphasis on foods that improve brain health.
Research shows positive results – a reduced risk of dementia and improved cognition in clients with higher amounts of life experience.
8 Foods To Reduce Your Risk Of Dementia
Often, nutrition messages focus on eating less stuff. Cut this out, reduce that. At SS Diets we focus on increasing the good stuff and advising you on what to eat, rather than what not to eat. So…
- Eat plenty of leafy greens each and every day
- Incorporate more plant-based (vegetarian) meals into your weekly rotation
- Incorporate more legumes and lentils into your weekly menu. We mean more than just hummus here!
- Increase your intake of berries (any kind will do)
- Make fish and seafood your main meal more often than you do red meat
- Enjoy 1 ‘closed’ handful of nuts every day
- Make Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) the basis of your cooking (avoid butter, lard and cream)
- Enjoy one (100ml) glass of red wine (Yep!)
4 Foods That Are Linked To Increased Risk Of Dementia
Yes, here comes the “try to avoid” list (which is why we put it second). Australian research has shown that avoiding the following is a smart idea to reduce the risk of dementia…
1. Heavily Processed Meats
Such as salami, mortadella, spam, etc
2. Red Meat
Large amounts and frequent choices of red meat. Particularly when it’s a fatty cut such as Wagyu (marbling of 9+), leg of lamb or a “cattleman’s cut”. Try to limit this to less than three times a week.
3. Take Away
Keep these to less than two times a week.
4. Ultra-Processed Snacks
Such as chips, shapes, biscuits, ice cream, cakes, etc.
Are Anti-Oxidants Helpful For Brain Health?
Have you ever heard of polyphenols, phytochemicals, flavonoids, anthocyanins or carotenoids? The list is endless and, no doubt, often confusing when we hear or see information in the media about these words.
Essentially, they can all be grouped as phytochemicals. Which are components of plants (phyto means plant). These components work in mysterious ways but we would typically say they act as anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants protect your body cells from the damage caused by free radicals (most commonly caused by breaking down alcohol, cigarette smoke and food). High amounts of free radicals without their arch nemesis (anti-oxidants) speed up ageing, reduce skin integrity and increase your risk of diabetes, cancer, strokes and …. (yep) Dementia!
Can I Get My Anti-Oxidants In A Supplement?
While there are loads of lotions and potions on the market claiming to fulfil all your anti-oxidant needs by ingesting just one tiny pill daily, research suggests anti-oxidants don’t have any impact when isolated from their food source. Research has consistently demonstrated that the best way to get your daily dose of phytochemicals is through whole foods.
How Will I Know If I’ve Eaten Enough Anti-Oxidants?
The short answer is you won’t. There are hundreds of different types of anti-oxidants, found in a crazily wide range of foods (mostly fruit and vegetables though). To add even more complexity, different antioxidants have been shown to have different health benefits. This is where “eating the rainbow” is actually really important! Purple foods have different anti-oxidants than blue, orange or green.
So, while the “eat the rainbow” message has been around for a long time, there’s actually a lot of evidence to back it up. Think back to what you’ve eaten today… Perhaps you had weet-bix with milk for breakfast, a ham sandwich for lunch, maybe a mushroom pasta for dinner? How many colours were represented in your food? Statistically speaking, 96% of Australians don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit. Consequently, that leaves just a 4 % chance you’re eating all your colours!
Is It More Than Just Colours Though?
While all colours are created equal with respect to anti-oxidants (& eating to reduce the risk of dementia), the “eat the rainbow” argument isn’t quite right. To support dementia prevention it’s the deep reds, blues and purples that are the superheroes of the vegetable and fruit world. These colours tell us that the food contains anthocyanins. Yep, we aren’t going to try and pronounce that either. Let’s just call it “Blue” for now.
“Blue” can be found in blueberries, raspberries, cherries, purple grapes, red cabbage, beetroot and blackberries just to name a few examples. So, “Blue” is becoming a bit of a superstar from the research over the past 2 or 3 years because it’s been linked to improving cognition and motor skills in some ageing populations by simply eating the equivalent to 1 cup of berries a day. “Blue” has also improved mood and memory, as well as showing benefits for vascular function, improved blood pressure, cholesterol levels and better controlled Type-2 Diabetes.
Incidentally, here’s a super simple recipe that is perfectly suited to assist in reducing the risk of dementia.
Fresh, Frozen or Dried?
Unfortunately, Aussie adults seem to be eating less of these foods, not more. We often hear people talking about the high costs of fresh fruit and vegetables, with berries, in particular, sometimes hitting $7/punnet. But, here’s the thing, frozen berries are cheaper and store better at home, and may even contain more “Blue” than fresh ones. Also, dried berries are just as good as well! So, if you see a bargain, don’t be afraid to buy in bulk as they’ll store well for ages.
Remember, it’s never too late, and the change is never too small. Actually, research into the MIND diet has shown even small changes reduce the risk of dementia by 35%, whereas implementing the diet in full reduced dementia by 53%. Often, the smaller the change, the more likely you are to be successful at adopting that change into your daily routine. And with any eating pattern, consistency is key.
If you’d like further help in improving your diet to reduce the risk of dementia or just become a healthier version of you, get in contact with the team at SS Diets. Click to book or send an enquiry.