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Foods that help fight dementia

Care Services Dementia
25 March 2021

Dementia is the term used to describe a number of neurological conditions that affect a person’s cognitive, behavioural, functional and physical ability.

There are more than 100 different types of dementia and each has its own causes.

Dementia can happen to anyone, but it’s more common in people over the age of 65. However, while most people with dementia are older, it is important to remember that not all older people get dementia and it’s not a normal part of ageing.

We are still learning so much about dementia and medical research is advancing each year as it makes more discoveries, but there is still no cure. However, according to Dementia Australia, we can all do something to help reduce the risk of developing dementia by examining our diets.

Practicing good nutrition and eating lots of healthy foods can also help you fight other health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity which can also contribute to cognitive decline.

Here are five foods that may assist in fighting dementia:

1. Antioxidants

There are many different types of antioxidants, and some of the most well-known examples include vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene. Each antioxidant has a different chemical composition and plays a slightly different role.

In summary, though, antioxidants soak up damaging molecules in the body known as ‘free radicals’ which can contribute to cell death. Therefore, increasing your intake of antioxidants may reduce your risk of developing some types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Foods rich in antioxidants include:

  • deeply or brightly coloured fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • tea (especially green tea)
  • vegetable oils
  • dark chocolate (in moderation)
  • red wine (in moderation).

However, that doesn’t mean artistic pursuits aren’t therapeutic in their own right. Creative and arts-based activities can have very positive impacts on physical and mental wellbeing.

Most residential aged care centres, including IRT’s, offer various activities for their residents, which can include arts and crafts, music, dance, writing, cooking and gardening.

2. Omega-3 fats

Omega-3 fats have various benefits for your body and brain. Because our bodies don’t produce it, the only way it can be obtained is from our diet. Omega-3 fats are thought to protect blood vessels and reduce inflammation of the brain. Some research, including one you can read about here, suggests that a higher consumption of omega-3 is associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia.

Omega-3 is found in foods including:

  • fish (especially oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna)
  • flaxseed (linseed) oil
  • walnuts
  • eggs.

3. Unsaturated fats

A higher intake of ‘good fats,’ also known as monounsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats has been linked with a lower risk of developing dementia. These fats can increase levels of HDL cholesterol, which help protect brain cells.

Foods high in protective unsaturated fats include:

  • olive oil and olives
  • some margarines and vegetable oils
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • fish.

4. The Mediterranean diet

Some studies, including one you can read about here, has demonstrated the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for good heart and brain health. Eating a Mediterranean diet has been found to reduce the risk of developing problems with memory, thinking and cognitive decline. It’s also been associated with lower levels of stroke, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The Mediterranean diet includes:

  • plenty of vegetables
  • legumes
  • grains
  • nuts
  • some fruit and fish
  • olive oil
  • herbs and spices instead of salt
  • small amounts of meat.

People who adhere to this diet have been found to have a lower risk of developing dementia, and to have a slower decline if they already have cognitive impairment or dementia.

5. B group vitamins

B group vitamins, such as vitamin B12 and B9 (folate), play an important role in cell metabolism and reducing your risk of developing dementia.

Vitamin B12 is important for normal functioning of the brain and nervous system and is found in foods such as:

  • meat
  • shellfish
  • dairy foods
  • tempeh and other fermented foods
  • some fortified breakfast cereals.

B9, or folate, is important for the production and maintenance of new cells and is essential for brain function. Sources of folate include:

  • leafy vegetables such as spinach
  • other vegetables such as corn, pumpkin and parsnips
  • legumes
  • sunflower seeds
  • fruits such as oranges, bananas, rockmelons and strawberries
  • some fortified breakfast cereals.

If you’re stuck for ideas on how to incorporate these foods into your diet, Chef Maggie Beer has partnered with Professor Ralph Martins to write a book with more than 200 recipes that help provide the nutrients we need for optimum brain health. The book, titled Maggie’s Recipes for Life is based on the latest scientific research and includes simple recipes for all ages. You can read more about the book here.

Foods to avoid

While there are plenty of healthy foods to choose from to help prevent dementia, there are also some to consume in moderation.

According to Dementia Australia, people with high intakes of saturated and trans fats in their diet have a higher risk of developing dementia. These types of fats increase levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in our bodies, known as LDL, and can also lead to other health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. High levels of LDL cholesterol may also contribute to an increase in the production of beta-amyloid protein, which is one of the chemicals that causes damage to the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • butter
  • lard
  • meat
  • full-fat dairy products
  • coconut oil
  • palm oil
  •  

Foods high in trans fats include:

  • some fast food
  • snack foods
  • fried food
  • ice cream
  • commercially based goods like cakes and biscuits.

Remember, it’s always best to speak with your GP or a dietician when it comes to changes to your diet. A qualified professional will be able to recommend a diet that is suitable to your personal goals and needs.

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