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Clues to an "Anti-Alzheimer's" Diet

Clues to an
New research suggests something as simple as what we eat could help protect us from this disease
Alzheimer's disease causes incalculable suffering to the millions of people living with it and to their caregivers, making any promising prevention measures welcome news. New research suggests something as simple as what we eat could help protect us from this disease.

What to eat, what to avoid

Researchers invited 2,148 adults, 65 years and older, to complete an evaluation of brain health and eating habits. All of the participants were free of Alzheimer's at the beginning of the study. They completed the same brain health assessment every 1.5 years. After four years, the study identified which dietary habits were associated with decreased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

People who ate plenty of fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, dark green and leafy vegetables, and salad dressing and who ate limited high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat, and butter were 38% less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

The study authors pointed out that the dietary habits most protective against developing Alzheimer's are consistent with a Mediterranean diet. This matches up with previous research by this same group, which found that following a diet consistent with the Mediterranean style of eating might protect against Alzheimer's disease too.

Eating to bolster brain health

If you want to give your brain a leg up, fill your plate with healthy, brain-boosting foods. Fortunately, these very same diet changes can improve health in a variety of ways. To reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, and dementia, you can't go wrong with going Mediterranean:
  • Tack on tomatoes. If you don't eat tomatoes or tomato sauce, or drink tomato juice a few times per week, try to make this a goal. Opt for low- or reduced-sodium products.
  • Go fishing. Enjoy wild-caught, seasonal fish one to two times per week.
  • Chicken out. In the study, poultry scored high as a healthy way to get protein into your diet.
  • Focus on fresh. Fresh fruit and vegetables are an important part of the Mediterranean diet.
  • Go green. Green leafy, that is. Eat a serving of cruciferous and green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chard, and spinach a minimum of five times per week.
  • Sample the salad. Homemade, olive oil-based, or vinaigrette dressings are healthiest. And don't forget salad dressing's main reason to be healthy: it's attached to salad! Skip the croutons, cheese, and other high-fat add-ons.
  • Go meatless, or at least, "less meat." Keep red meat to 3-ounce portions a few times per week or less, and limit organ meat to special occasions only.
  • De-fat your dairy. Stick to low fat dairy in your daily routine. Use butter, cream, and other high-fat dairy items three times per week, or less.

(Arch Neurol 2010; 67:E1-E8; Ann Neurol 2006; 59:912-21; Arch Neurol 2009; 66:216-25)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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