Earlier this year, a study showed that changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease begin 25 years before onset of symptoms. 25 years! Thus the easiest preventive strategy people can incorporate into daily life is to modify their diets. While it is speculative and unrealistic to definitively declare that a change in diet can completely offset a genetic propensity to develop the disease, there is evidence that modest changes could indeed reduce your risk for developing Alzheimer's. So what do those changes look like? Here are two examples from my recent book, "The Alzheimer's Prevention Cookbook: 100 Recipes To Boost Brain Health," which I co-authored with celebrity chef Beau MacMillan. First, the amount of saturated fat in our diet has to be reduced. Saturated fats and trans fats are the main categories of fats we need to avoid, and unfortunately, they're found in the vast majority of commercially available foods these days. Most animal products, partially hydrogenated oils, and many other processed foods include saturated and trans fats. Specifically, saturated fat is found mostly in foods from animals and some plants, including:
- beef, beef fat, veal, lamb, pork, lard, poultry fat, butter, cream, milk, cheeses and other dairy products.
- coconut, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil (often called tropical oils), and cocoa butter.
Most, but not all, evidence of the link between saturated fat and Alzheimer's comes from animal studies in which mice and rats were fed diets of different fat levels and then given learning and memory tests. In one such study, scientists fed one group of mice genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer's a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and another control group of mice a diet without these fats. After two months, when both sets of mice were tested for memory-related tasks, the ones that had been fed the saturated fats couldn't remember, much less perform, the tasks, and the control group could. When their brains were examined, the scientists found increased levels of the toxic beta-amyloid protein in the mice fed the high-saturated-fat diet.
Second, adhering to the Mediterranean diet is a good idea. Almost every ingredient that researchers have isolated as brain-beneficial also happens to be a traditionally "Mediterranean" Food. The Mediterranean diet deliciously encapsulates all the beneficial ingredients and eating trends that are discussed in the book. This diet -- which gets its name from the dietary habits of people in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, specifically -- is built around fruits and vegetables and regular consumption of fish. It's also rich in whole grains, potatoes, beans, nuts, seeds, and, perhaps most central of all, monounsaturated fatty acid-rich olive oil.
Additionally, quite a few targeted studies bear out the link between Mediterranean-style eating and slower cognitive decline, a reduced risk of developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a reduced risk of progression from MCI to Alzheimer's, and a decreased risk for Alzheimer's and reduced all-cause mortality among patients who already have Alzheimer's.
Check out the slideshow below for six delicious recipes that promote brain health.