The month of January is recognized nationally as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and represents a time when we seek to dispel the negative attitude and stigma that surrounds the individual living with Alzheimer’s disease. “Words and actions are powerful and can change the story of dementia. That’s the goal of our campaign, to dispel the myths around what it means to live with dementia and encourage all of us to see the person beyond the condition,” says Mimi Lowi-Young, CEO at the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
This column is actually going to focus on nutrition and the fact that studies have shown that while some foods boost memory, others actually increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. These same foods are linked to other serious health problems, making it that much more important to limit or remove them from your diet.
A healthy diet does more than benefit our waistlines. It improves our heart health, lowers our risk for cancer, diabetes, and other diseases, and keeps our minds healthy. In fact, research has shown that a poor diet impacts memory and increases a person’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Some foods induce memory loss. The brain needs its own brand of ‘fuel’ such as healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and adequate vitamins and minerals. Consuming too little of these foods and too many complex carbohydrates, processed foods and sugar stimulates the production of toxins in the body. Those toxins can lead to inflammation, the build-up of plaques in the brain and, as a result, impaired cognitive function.
Unfortunately, the foods that hamper memory are common staples in the average diet. White breads, pasta, processed meats and cheeses, microwave popcorn and beer, all of which have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Some experts have even found that whole grain breads are as bad as white breads because they spike blood sugar, which causes inflammation.
Changing your dietary habits is never easy, but avoiding foods that induce memory loss and eating more of the foods that boost memory improves your chances of enjoying all-around health. In order to get enough of these brain boosters, you will want to make sure you or your loved one stocks up on these foods:
- Vegetables – especially leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnip greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli
- Salmon and other cold-water fish, such as halibut, tuna, mackerel and sardines, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Berries and dark-skinned fruits which are rich in antioxidants – blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries.
- Coffee and chocolate are surprisingly good for you. The caffeine and antioxidants in these two tasty treats may help ward off age-related memory impairment, along with cinnamon, olive oil and curry.
- Extra virgin olive oil contains a substance called oleocanthal that helps boost the production of key proteins and enzymes that help break down the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
On that note, thank goodness chocolate is good for you. There may be hope for me yet. I must admit, it did not seem to help me during the festive season – I consumed a mountain of chocolate, but it did not prevent memory loss. I completely forgot to write a column for January 4th and I apologize. In almost 8 years that is the very first time I did not even think of it. I guess I had better eat more chocolate…