With World Alzheimer’s Month well under way, it’s time to take a look into the ways you can reduce your risk for developing this debilitating disease. Diet plays a major role in making or breaking our chances of avoiding Alzheimer’s – here are 5 foods to add to your plate to sharpen your defenses.
With Alzheimer’s rates through the roof – in just 12 years, cases of the condition have risen by 100 000 in Australia, and that number is set to jump a further 450 000 by 2058 – the spread of this devastating condition is showing no signs of slowing. It’s no coincidence that our consumption of sugar and highly-processed goods has also spiked along with Alzheimer’s – in fact, researchers believe there may be a link between an inflammatory diet and the development of this disease.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia which is characterised by negative changes to memory function, behaviour and thinking. It’s a progressive disease that leaves the patient increasingly incapable of daily tasks and functions. Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of the aging process – while some forgetfulness is to be expected, this condition is first and foremost a disease that can affect anyone, though older age is a known risk factor.
What causes Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is believed to be caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins inside and surrounding our brain cells. One protein, known as amyloid, leads to a number of plaque deposits, as does another protein, known as tau – the plaque deposits of this protein tend to create tangles in and around our brain cells. But you’re probably wondering what causes these changes to happen in the first place – while there isn’t a straight answer at the moment, researchers have reason to believe chronic inflammation may play a major role. This inflammation may bolster the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – and one of the key sources of inflammation in our lives comes through our diet.
How diet plays into your risk for developing Alzheimer’s
An anti-inflammatory diet has been found to significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia. Low in sugar, minimally-processed goods with antioxidant properties and healthy fats are the foods to prioritise when you’re eating for brain health. Here are our top 5 foods to reduce your risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
Strawberries are high in vitamin C, fibre and most importantly, antioxidants. These antioxidants are known as polyphenols and have been found to reduce the risk for cancer, diabetes and stroke, along with protecting against Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that those who regularly ate a sizeable number of strawberries had significantly higher levels of antioxidants than those who didn’t – and these antioxidants led to the development of fewer of tau tangles around the brain cells, which, as we mentioned earlier, is one of the direct causes of Alzheimer’s.
We’ve long-known green tea to be an anti-inflammatory drink, blowing black tea out of the water for antioxidant content by nearly double, but did you know it may specifically aid in preventing Alzheimer’s? Research has shown the promising possibilities of green tea in fighting the disease – not just by preventing development in the first place, but by combatting existing signs of the disease. Here are some of the anti-Alzheimer functions researchers found green tea to assist with:
- Preventing amyloid plaques from forming – these are the plaque formations which characterise Alzheimer’s disease.
- Breaking down existing plaques by interfering with their accumulation processes.
- Supporting new neurons in the hippocampus – this is the part of the brain which converts memories from short to long term.
Avocado is loaded with linoleic acid and monounsaturated fats, both of which are healthy fats which keep our body functioning to full capacity. In fact, researchers say linoleic acids helps us lose weight – but it’s the monounsaturated fats that are known for fighting inflammation. These fats not only reduce our risk of cognitive decline, but also assist with the following:
- Reducing LDL cholesterol levels in the blood
- Lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Supporting the development and maintenance of the body’s cells
Avocados are an antioxidant-rich fruit, with one study finding that regular consumption increased the levels of lutein in the blood – lutein is a carotenoid with anti-inflammatory properties, making it a valuable contribution to an anti-Alzheimer’s diet. Plus, it’s even been found to prevent age-related macular disease, reduce cell loss and prevent sun damage.
Leafy greens are an essential for any healthy diet, due to their calcium, vitamin C and vitamin K content. But they also happen to be rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants which have been proven to protect the brain and body from oxidative stress, which can lead to Alzheimer’s. They tend to boast the following antioxidants:
- Vitamin C
These antioxidants are known to prevent oxidative damage and reduce inflammation, thereby strengthening our defenses against Alzheimer’s. So be sure to add some steamed broccoli or crispy roasted kale with dinner tonight.
Olive oil is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties – there’s a reason the Mediterranean diet is hailed as a life-extending, health-boosting solution to many of our modern-day ailments. This oil is packed with essential fatty acids that our bodies require to process vitamins A, D and E – all of which are needed for a healthy body, from our eyesight to skin and muscle repair processes. Olive oil is rich in a fatty acid known as oleic acid, which studies have found to have antioxidising properties, along with the added benefits of preventing insulin resistance and reducing the risk for heart disease. Plus, if you’re consuming healthy fats, you’ll feel fuller for longer, thereby reducing the temptation to snack on inflammatory foods. In fact, studies have shown the medium chain triglycerides in olive oil decrease appetite and curb sugar cravings. The antioxidants in olive oil also work to reduce inflammation, drastically cutting your chances for developing a range of metabolic diseases, autoimmune conditions, mood disorders and, of course, Alzheimer’s disease.
But those aren’t the only cognition-boosting foods you should prioritise in the fight against Alzheimer’s – here are a few of the other essentials to load up on:
- Whole grains: Minimally-processed whole grains tend to be nutrient dense, helping to reduce inflammation, improve gut health and ward off dementia – make sure to get at least 3 serves per day.
- Nuts and seeds: The healthy fats, magnesium and B vitamins in these foods are known defences against cognitive decline – make sure to get around 5 serves per week.
- Legumes Legumes like lentils, beans and chickpeas are known for their brain-boosting properties – make sure to get at least 3-5 serves per week.
- Fish. The omega fatty acids have been proven to slow the progression of cognitive decline – make sure to get around 1 serve per week.
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