It’s estimated that as many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease. An Alzheimer’s diagnoses can be devastating to a patient, their friends, and their family members. While there is no cure for the disease, there are several foods that can significantly increase your Alzheimer’s risk. By limiting these foods in your diet, you may be able to lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the first place.
Here are three foods that significantly increase your Alzheimer’s risk:
1. Red Meat
Red meat is rich in iron, which your body needs to avoid anemia, chronic fatigue, and weak muscles. However, too much iron can end up causing damage from too many free radicals in the body. When iron builds up in the brain, it fills an area known as “gray matter.” This is a part of the brain that shows one of the first signs of degeneration as we age. Too much iron in this area can speed up the aging process.
2. Refined Carbohydrates And Sugars
In a 2012 study, researchers found that people 70 years old or older who ate a diet heavy in carbohydrates were nearly four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who ate a healthier diet. Carbohydrates found naturally in foods include sugars, starches, and fiber, but processed foods are often loaded with sugar. They raise glucose and insulin levels in the body, causing blood sugar to spike. A long-term diet heavy in carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance over time. If your body starts to ignore insulin, your pancreas will compensate by producing even more. High insulin levels can end up damaging blood vessels in the brain, causing memory issues. In Alzheimer’s patients, parts of the brain become resistant to insulin.
3. High-AGE Foods
No, we aren’t talking about how old a food is. AGEs stands for “advanced glycation end-products.” These chemicals, found naturally in our bodies, are also present in some foods, and processing those foods–like high heat cooking or concentrating fats (think cheese)–increases the levels of AGEs. AGEs have been linked to diabetes and poor cardiovascular health. Scientists are now realizing they might also play a role in brain decline. In a 2014 study, researchers examined the role of AGEs in mice. They found that mice who were eating the least amount of AGEs experienced improved cognitive function. A similar study was conducted on human participants. When researchers studied the diets of 90 healthy people age 60 or older, they found that those who ate high-AGE diets showed decline over the course of the nine-month study. High-AGE foods include red meat, cheese, cream, butter, and processed grains.
Foods That Help Lower Alzheimer’s Risk
Just as it’s important to know which foods to avoid, it’s also good to know which foods to reach for. Research has shown that a Mediterranean diet may help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, which when eaten raw have very low AGEs levels and are high in dietary fiber. Sprouted nuts and seeds provide healthy fats and a good source of protein. Avocados, with their higher fat content, can really satisfy hunger. Omega-3 fatty acids–a hallmark of the Mediterranean Diet–can be sourced from plants, like flax, hemp, and chia seeds; sustainable sources of long-chain omega-3s (spirulina or marine phytoplankton, for example) provide brain-healthy fats and a complete protein. Win-Win!
In addition to foods found in the Mediterranean Diet, Rudolf Steiner (creator of Waldorf Education and BioDynamic Farming) indicated eating a wide variety of roots to improve cognition, memory, and brain function. Roots particularly beneficial for brain health include onions, garlic, and radishes. Maca, a superfood found in the mountains of South America, is a powdered root that you can easily add to smoothies and milks. You can also drink your roots through juicing (carrot juice, anyone?) and making teas; burdock root is a good one to try.
Don’t forget to include fresh water throughout the day, adding a pinch of sea salt to get the trace minerals that your brain needs to function well.