Following a dementia prevention diet can decrease the risk or prolong dementia diagnosis.
Dementia is an extremely difficult thing to experience. In my opinion, it’s harder on loved ones to watch a person they love turn into a person they don’t recognize.
It may be news to you, but there are ways to prevent dementia.
In fact, evidence shows that dietary habits can reduce the risk of dementia. Plus, despite popular belief, lifestyle factors may outweigh genetic risk when it comes to dementia diagnosis.
For the sake of the people we love, its time to take the steps to keep our minds healthy.
So, you may be wondering what to eat to prevent dementia.
This article will outline a dementia prevention diet: foods to include, foods to limit, and the top three foods found most successful in reducing dementia risk.
Let’s dive in!
First, dementia is more than just memory loss or forgetfulness. It’s a serious complication that affects day-to-day living.
It’s most common in individuals over 65. Although common, dementia is not a normal part of aging.
Dementia is a collection of symptoms caused by several disorders that affect the brain.
Those with dementia can experience:
- Impaired mental functioning that interferes with activities and relationships
- Hallucinations or increased irritability
- Personality and behavior changes
- Loss of well-being and motor decline
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often used interchangeably. However, they are not synonyms.
Dementia is the umbrella category which Alzheimer’s disease falls under. Nevertheless, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases.
- Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death in individuals 65 or older
- The sixth-leading cause of death for all adults
- 1 in 9 people over 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
- 12.7 million people are expected to have Alzheimer’s by 2050
Causes of Dementia
Simply, damage to the nerve cells causes dementia. This damage affects brain function.
Parts of the brain are responsible for different functions. For example, the frontal lobe is responsible for movement, memory, thinking, and behavior.
As a result, damage to certain cells or regions of the brain can negatively affect these functions. Such as issues with memory or judgment.
Unfortunately, why these brain cells become damaged is somewhat unclear.
Yet, several studies suggest an association between oxidative stress and dementia.
Free radicals can cause oxidative stress leading to damaged brain cells. These chemicals can cause inflammation and result in permanent damage to tissues and cells.
On top of that, there is a link between inflammation and dementia. Researchers believe that people who have chronic inflammation are more likely to experience cognitive decline. In turn, leading to dementia.
Signs of Dementia
Common signs of dementia include:
- Memory loss or forgetfulness
- Poor judgment
- Difficulty speaking or expressing thoughts
- Repeating questions
- Difficulty planning
- Taking longer than normal to complete daily tasks
- Losing balance
- Problems with movement
- A drastic change in emotion
If you or someone you know is experiencing one of the above signs, consider an appointment with a doctor.
There is not a single conclusive test to determine dementia.
Furthermore, memory loss itself is not a dementia diagnosis. Dementia is often diagnosed if two or more brain functions are significantly impaired. For instance, difficulty with motor skills.
Doctors examine the changes in day to day function, thinking, and behavior. Plus, they may perform blood tests, brain scans, and/or cognitive tests.
Unfortunately, there is not an exact cure for dementia. But, doctors may prescribe medications to reduce mental decline.
I repeat: Prevention is the best treatment.
Ok, this may sound silly because sometimes it’s too little too late. However, if it’s not too late and it likely isn’t if you’ve found yourself on this article- it can begin with a brain healthy, dementia prevention diet.
Interestingly, a healthy lifestyle can lower dementia risk by up to 60%. On top of that, an overall healthy lifestyle can offset genetic risk.
In other words, a strong family history of dementia does not mean you will get the disease. There are steps to take to fight the condition. These steps may even cancel out the genetic risk.
So, we may be able to prevent dementia with food.
An equally important part of a healthy mind and lifestyle is sleep. Check out my 12-item Sleep Well Grocery List. Packed with foods proven to aid in sleep!
Dementia Prevention Diet: Foods to Include
Diet plays an important role in any disease prevention. Dementia is no different. A simple step to prevent dementia can be eating foods with anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
First up, omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s are unsaturated fat also known as a healthy fat. Plus, they have anti-inflammatory effects.
Research suggests that omega 3 intake may decrease the chance of dementia.
Omega 3s can be broken down into three categories: ALA, DHA, and EPA. All of which are long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
There is an association between a higher intake of long chain, PUFAs and decreased Alzheimer’s disease risk.
Sources: fish, vegetable oils, avocado, nuts, seeds
Additionally, multiple studies have shown a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s diagnosis with increased intake of DHA and EPA.
DHA: Docosahexaenoic acid
- Can protect the brain from cognitive decline
EPA: Eicosapentaenoic acid
- Protective role of the nervous system
As stated above, oxidative stress may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Luckily, antioxidants are protective against oxidative stress. Even luckier, antioxidants are in many foods.
Antioxidants are small molecules that fight free radicals. Studies have shown that diets rich in antioxidants reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Decreasing oxidative stress with antioxidants may have beneficial outcomes for cognitive impairments.
Sources: espresso, pomegranate juice, berries, cloves, walnuts, kale
So, we’ve established antioxidants combat oxidative stress which may be a driver in mental decline. The other potential cause of a decline in mental status can be inflammation.
There is a link between inflammation and various diseases including heart disease and diabetes.
Furthermore, researchers have linked chronic and acute inflammation with an increase in cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.
Including anti-inflammatory foods in our diet can help reduce inflammation.
An increasing amount of studies prove that following an anti-inflammatory diet can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Check out 7 Simple Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Breakfast Ideas!
An anti-inflammatory diet pattern focuses on fruits, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fat.
Anti-inflammatory Food Examples:
- Fruits: berries, cherries, plums, grapes, oranges
- Non Starchy Vegetables: spinach, kale, tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers, cauliflower
- Legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas
- Whole Grains: oats, barley, brown rice, whole grain bread, quinoa, buckwheat, millet
- Healthy Fat: salmon, tuna, extra virgin olive oil, avocado
- Nuts and Seeds: almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds
- Herbs and Spices: garlic, ginger, turmeric, cayenne
- Additional: red wine, dark chocolate, green tea
Balance of all food is essential.
Dementia Prevention Diet: Foods to Limit
On the other hand, some foods may expedite dementia diagnosis.
Saturated fat is “the bad fat” compared to unsaturated fat discussed earlier (in the omega-3 section). There is a link between saturated fat and clogged arteries leading to heart issues.
Plus, diets high in saturated fat can promote mental decline. Moreover, there is an association between saturated fat intake and higher Alzheimer’s risk. Diets high in trans fat have a similar effect.
Sources: red meat, whole fat dairy, convenience food, coconut oil
Similarly, elevated cholesterol levels in the blood can contribute to heart issues. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in our blood. It can build up and lead to blocked arteries.
There is somewhat less evidence on the link between dementia risk and direct cholesterol intake. However, there is an association between high cholesterol levels and an increased chance of dementia.
Additionally, diets high in saturated fat may lead to increased cholesterol levels.
Sources contributing to high cholesterol: red meat, butter, bacon, fried food
Dementia Prevention Diet: Top 3 Key Essentials
First, an overall healthy diet is necessary for best health. Research has determined three foods that are essential in a dementia prevention diet. These top three foods have been the most successful in reducing dementia risk.
First, strawberries are anti-inflammatory and antioxidative.
Not only are strawberries high in antioxidants, but they also contain other key nutrients for Alzheimer’s prevention.
The delicious fruit contains polyphenols and anthocyanidins. These compounds promote brain health.
A two decade long study discovered an association between higher strawberry intake and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s dementia.
Now, we may assume strawberry intake means an overall healthy diet. However, there was a weak correlation between strawberry intake and intake of other healthy foods.
Researchers stated a 24% decrease in dementia with weekly strawberry consumption compared to those consuming one or none per month.
Additionally, strawberry intake of 1 or more times a week showed a 34% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s dementia compared to no or rare intake.
Bottom Line: Strawberry intake may lead to decreased risk of Alzheimer’s. A serving of strawberries is about 1 cup and the recommended intake is at least once a week.
As stated above, studies show a correlation between omega 3s and decreased dementia risk. On the other hand, there is some inconsistent evidence in determining the association between omega 3s and dementia risk. There is a stronger correlation between Alzheimer’s risk and fish intake.
Fish contains both DHA and EPA.
Research has shown an association between higher fish intake and a 36% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, 100g of fish weekly resulted in an 11% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
To put that into perspective, that’s about 3.5oz a week. A fish serving is typically 3-6oz. Therefore, that can be less than one full serving weekly.
Highest DHA/EPA sources: Herring, salmon, wild mackerel, rainbow trout
Furthermore, salmon provides high levels of vitamin B12. Studies suggest an association between B12 deficiency and increased risk of dementia.
Bottom Line: Fatty fish consumption may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. This is most effective when consumed at least weekly.
#3 Leafy Greens
Finally, leafy green vegetables support brain health. Leafy greens include spinach, kale, cabbage, collard greens, romaine lettuce, and more.
These vegetables provide vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, and vitamin E. Plus, high levels of antioxidants.
One study showed that consuming a daily serving of green leafy vegetables may help to slow cognitive decline with aging.
On top of that, those who consumed 1–2 servings per day were the equivalent of being 11 years younger. This is compared with those who rarely or never consumed green leafy vegetables.
Furthermore, a study found that women consuming the most green leafy vegetables experienced slower mental decline than women consuming the least amount.
A serving of green leafy vegetables six or more times weekly was the most effective in reducing cognitive decline.
Additionally, there is a link between folate deficiency and cognitive decline. Leafy greens tend to provide sufficient folate quantities.
Bottom Line: Leafy green vegetables may promote brain health and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A serving size is about 1 cup and is most effective when eaten daily.
Looking for a recipe that includes leafy greens AND fish? Check out my Tuscan Salmon recipe here!
The MIND Diet
Well, we can’t talk about dementia prevention without focusing on the MIND Diet. The goal of the MIND diet is to promote brain health and decrease the deterioration of nerve cells.
The diet pattern is a mash-up of 2 diet plans: The Mediterranean Diet & The DASH Diet.
MIND: The Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay
The Mediterranean Diet
- Inspired by the traditional diet of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea
- Key focus: Fish, olive oil, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, red wine
The DASH Diet
- DASH: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension
- Created to control high blood pressure and promote heart health
- Key Focus: Fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low fat dairy, whole grains
- Limit: Red meat, whole fat milk, sweets, saturated fat, salt
Both diet patterns can result in brain stability. Also, they have anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties. However, neither diet plan is directly associated with dementia prevention.
The MIND diet combines the brain-protective parts of each diet. Therefore, this results in a dementia prevention diet plan.
MIND Diet Components
This diet emphasizes leafy greens and berries.
As stated above, leafy greens contain the essential nutrients that may promote brain health. Plus, berries have been shown to slow down cognitive decline and improve memory.
The MIND diet also incorporates fish. However, a decreased amount is recommended compared to the Mediterranean diet. 1-2 servings of fish per week are considered sufficient in lowering dementia risk.
- Whole grains ½ cup or 1 slice 21+x/week
- Leafy Greens 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked 7+x/week
- Other vegetables 14+x/week
- Berries ½ cup 2-5x/week
- Beans ½ cup 3+x/week
- Nuts 1oz 2-5x/week
- Fish 1x/week
- Poultry 3-5oz 2x/week
- Olive oil 1-2 tbsp/day
- Cheese <1oz/week
- Butter <tsp/day
- Processed and red meat 3x/week
- Sweets <5x/week
- Alcohol 1x/day
- Fried and fast food 1x/week
Finally, research has confirmed that those following the MIND Diet show a decrease in cognitive decline. One study showed that those following the MIND Diet had slowed down cognitive decline, which was equivalent to being 7.5 years younger.
So, let’s recap. Studies have shown that diet choices may decrease or increase dementia risk.
Furthermore, it’s believed dementia can root from oxidative stress and inflammation. Regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory foods can reduce the risk.
Additionally, there are three specific foods proven to prevent dementia.
- Leafy Greens
On top of that, a special MIND diet was even created to reduce mental decline. This diet focuses on whole grains, berries, leafy greens, lean protein, and healthy fat.
Next time you’re meal planning, consider including strawberries, fish, and leafy greens!
Follow Mind & Memory Nutrition on Instagram for brain healthy tips and recipes!
Other Posts you may Enjoy
- 13 Nontraditional Mediterranean Diet Smoothies
- 7 Simple Anti-Inflammatory Breakfast Foods
- Creamy Tuscan Salmon Recipe
*Although evidence based, there is no guarantee following these steps will completely prevent dementia. This is general, nutrition advice and not tailored to any one person’s specific needs. Speak with a healthcare professional for a personalized approach. Please refer to my Resources Page to further explore additional options. *