Let’s start with the good news: with better food choices, the human body can change and heal itself. It is an incredible machine, and this proves doubly true for our brains. Good nutrition can prevent and protects us against all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
From the latest research, we now know the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease begin with having too much sugar on the brain. Here are some hard facts: the average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar a day; over the course of a year, that’s 152 pounds of sugar. The American Heart Association says we should aim for a maximum of 6 teaspoons a day. Scientists tell us the higher our blood sugar levels are, the smaller our brain will become. Too much sugar in the brain actually makes the brain shrink. Yeek!
To add to the problem, each American consumes on average about 146 pounds of flour a year. The wheat-based processed foods we love—breads, crackers, breakfast cereals, all raise our blood sugar levels by increasing our glycemic load. Even whole flour grains are not immune. Reducing our glycemic load helps prevent the dreaded “insulin resistance” that often becomes diabetes when left unattended. Eating foods 50 or below on the Glycemic Index will help keep our insulin levels in check and within the good range.
Another issue with eating wheat: most of it is not organic. Pesticides, especially the herbicide Glyphosate, which is routinely sprayed on commercial wheat, disrupt gut flora. (Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup.) Scientists have found farmers have a much higher risk of dementia than the average person because of their exposure to pesticides.
Andrew Weil, MD, the founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, is one of the first experts in nutrition to identify what he calls “The Dirty Dozen.” These are the most heavily sprayed fruits and veggies, so they register the highest levels of pesticides inside them. Here is the list in order of the “Dirtiest” first:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
Every smart nutrition expert recommends choosing organic for as much of our produce as possible and especially opting for organic when it comes to eating any of these top ten offenders. I printed out this list and keep it taped to my kitchen cabinet (where all important notes live at my house) to remind me what to buy before I go to the grocery store. I also keep a small printed and laminated version in my wallet for handy reference (I know that sounds a bit obsessive, but I love my brain!).
To put it all together, every well-informed scientist, doctor, and researcher recommends we adopt what is commonly known as the Mediterranean diet. This plan isn’t a “diet,” like ones that continue to make headlines: “Lose 10 Pounds in Two Days By Eating Jelly Beans,” or other crazy diets that fill magazine pages and bookseller’s tables. This plan is a way of eating for life. The newest research says a diet higher in fat is better for brain health, making the Mediterranean diet an excellent choice for body, gut, and brain health. It’s rich in extra virgin olive oil and fatty fish. Many studies find that the people who follow this way of eating show significantly fewer cases of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease.
The Mediterranean diet in a nutshell:
- Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
- Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil
- Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
- Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
- Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
To this, Mark Hyman MD, the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center and the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, suggests eating foods higher in fat, such as avocados, and/or adding avocado oil or coconut oil to your daily diet. Choosing healthy fats vs. empty carbs to fuel the body is the way to go. A recent study, from the Mayo Clinic, in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that people who ate higher healthy fat sources for calories had a 44 percent reduction in risk of dementia as opposed to an 86 percent increased risk of dementia by those who ate a more traditionally American diet of refined carbohydrates.
At every meal, fill two-thirds of your plate with veggies—focusing on veggies found below a score of 50 on the Glycemic Index. This way of eating benefits both your gut and brain to prevent dementia. Your gut flora will come into balance, boosting your immune system and slowing down the aging process. A double-dip of positive effects! Plus, following this diet will protect your brain from stress and its devastating effects on cognitive function and memory. It will also help you lose weight. A triple-play home run to my way of thinking.
The Best Things to “Feed” Our Brains
- Cut back or eliminate refined sugar—white or brown sugar and maple syrup.
- Cut back or eliminate processed foods made from wheat—cookies, crackers, breads, breakfast cereal (By a country mile, these two are the most important choices you can make for the health of your brain).
- Eat like an Italian, Greek, or other culture from the Mediterranean region.
- Reduce your stress level: put more fun in your life. Add quiet time or meditation to your day. Seriously consider adopting a pet.
- Exercise moderately every day. Do enough to raise your heart rate to at least the lower end of the target range for your age. The formula there is 220 minus your age.
- Develop a daily gratitude practice by looking for and acknowledging things going right in your life. See my posts from June 2018 at LJRohan.com for more guidance, and download my Gratitude Meditation™ for a free and effective way to shift our perspective and strengthen our hearts.
- Additionally, develop a meditation practice. Eastern-based, religious-based, or spiritually-based meditations are all great, and the benefits come from devoting 20 minutes a day to a structured practice of some kind.
- Get at least 7 hours (and ideally 8 hours) of good quality sleep each night. A key here is to be in bed, lights out by 11 p.m.
- Learn to play a musical instrument. It’s challenging (I’m doing it), but so rewarding!
- Challenge your brain with Neurobic exercises. Here are a few suggestions and more information about this brain fitness approach.
- Love with all your heart, and learn to live from your heart –your emotional brain.
- And when things calm down, and we return to being together, strengthening or developing new friends: join a group, sign-up for a class, call your old classmates, and plan a “want to see” people reunion (none of the bullies or meanies allowed). Volunteer somewhere out of your comfort zone.
With a little time and slowly shifting the look of your plate from typically American to beautifully Mediterranean, you will feed your brain all it needs to stay vibrant and fire on all cylinders to prevent dementia! Need a program to get you started eating right with recommendations and a meal plan? Try Prime Women’s PLATE, designed specifically for women over 50.
Until next time… Be Vibrant!