Diets, diets, diets.
Today’s diets are overwhelming. It seems like every other day we hear about the latest diet trends, everything from keto to caveman. But which diets work, and which ones are good for you? It’s true that some of these new diets can produce rapid and encouraging improvements, and with wonderful results for weight loss. But can these immediate health benefits last? We often fail at diets because diets are too strict and there is no freedom for cheat days. Our cheat days are deemed a failure and so we resort back to our old eating habits, which are usually more convenient and cheaper. Rather than jumping onto a new diet trend that promises to fix our lives quick, we ought to instead consider more long-term improvements, and these can begin gradually as we build new and healthy eating habits.
Dietary patterns are strongly associated with overall health status, with many scientific studies demonstrating a significant reduction in the risk of heart disease and cancers when healthy eating is a habit. In the past decade, doctors and scientists have also learnt much about the effects of diet on the brain and your memory. Rather than beginning by telling you what you should be eating to help protect your memory, let’s take a moment to consider what you may already be eating, and perhaps make some small, beginner changes there.
Diet and Alzheimer's disease
We know that people with higher sugar intakes are at increased risk for poor memory, or even neurodegenerative disease like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is also true for those people who consume a lot of processed meats and cheeses. So, one way to begin to improve your overall health status and your memory is to cut back on the amount of processed meats you eat- the next time you do your weekly shopping, simply exclude this item from your shopping list. Use fresh cuts of chicken for your sandwiches instead- nowadays, a freshly cooked chicken is often the same price as a pack of preservative-packed processed ham. And speaking of sandwiches, you should try to cut back on your bead intake, too. Take sugar with your coffee? Don’t. You’ll soon begin to enjoy your morning coffee without sugar if you just drink it without for a few days. You may even begin to notice that you enjoy your coffee more, as the aromas and flavors are no longer masked by boring sweetness.
Excitingly, a clinical study found that drinking 4-5 cups of coffee per day was associated with a 65% reduction in the risk for Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
The mechanism of how coffee protects the brain is not fully known, but scientists believe that caffeine plays a positive role. Evidence exists for the protective effects of tea, also.
You should try to quit sodas- even diet sodas aren’t good for you.
Sodas can be very difficult to quit because they are highly addictive. You may need several attempts to quit soda before you actually succeed, but stick at it. Personally, I removed sodas from my diet during Lent- I decided to give this up for 40 days and 40 nights because I knew I craved it daily. By the end of Lent, I noticed I was having less headaches and more energy. I didn’t feel that afternoon tiredness that had been plaguing my work life. Quitting soda was easy at that point, because my mind and body had both become accustomed to it not being a part of my life anymore.
So to recap, begin by cutting back on sugar and processed meats.
The Mediterranean diet and MIND diet
Now that we’ve introduced a few items to cut out of your life, what about foods that are good for both your waistline and your brain?
A growing number of clinical studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet significantly reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The Mediterranean diet closely resembles another memory-boosting diet called the MIND diet, and both of these are diets which are rich in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and fruits. Butter is replaced with healthy fats such as olive or canola oil, and herbs and spices are used instead of salt for flavor. Since incorporating the Mediterranean diet and MIND diet into my life, I now dislike salt and often crave nuts and leafy greens instead of soda, and have even come to dislike butter, which is an unexpected habit and one that I’ve gladly welcomed! As you begin to eat more greens, fruit and nuts, consider eating fish and poultry in place of red meats, which should be limited to just a few times per month. Interestingly, eating more vegetables, fruits and nuts has also been shown to delay the onset of dementia by up to 4 years in individuals who were known to have an increased genetic risk of the disease.
Additionally, drinking one glass of wine with your dinner may also help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, this is due to the face that wines are a rich source of polyphenols such as resveratrol, and other antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
One of my favorite parts of talking about brain diets is chocolate!
That’s right, chocolate protects your brain from Alzheimer’s disease!!
The greatest protective effect is observed with dark chocolate, which is rich in cocoa. So feel free to indulge in an after-dinner treat, and why not buy some dark chocolate with nuts, since we know nuts are also great for your brain!
Mediterranean diet and MIND diet checklist
Take a look at the list below. This is a great guideline to help you navigate your new memory diet. To see how well you’re doing right now, give yourself one point for each of the items on this list. A total of 15 means you’re doing great!! In a clinical study, adults who scored an average of 9.6 or above saw the greatest reduction in Alzheimer’s risk. But don’t be disheartened if you don’t score this highly just yet; people who scored an average of 7.5 points cut their dementia and Alzheimer’s risk by a third!
- Red meat less than four times per week
- Berries at least twice per week
- Fish at least once per week
- Poultry at least twice per week
- Beans more than three times per week
- Nuts at least five times per week
- Fried or fast food less than once per week
- Olive oil for cooking
- Less than a tablespoon of butter or margarine each day
- At least three servings of whole grains each day
- Green leafy vegetables at least six times per week
- Vegetables at least once per day
- Less than one serving of cheese per week
- Less than five pastries or sweets each week
- One glass of wine each day (but not more than one!)
How did you do? I got 10 out of 15. I have still have room for improvement, but I am pleased with my efforts so far, and it really hasn’t been very difficult. Give it a go, and let us know how you’re doing!!