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Eat These Foods To Help Fight Dementia

Nutrition plays a big role in our health, with hard evidence that fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein fight a range of diseases. But did you know that making good food choices might also help prevent or slow dementia?

Dementia is a growing problem, predicted to affect nearly 14 million adults over 65 by 2060. With that sobering statistic, here’s a look at foods to improve cognition — and your overall well-being.

Antioxidants and You

Berries, tea, dark chocolate, coffee. Certain foods come up again and again in discussions of cellular health. That’s because they contain antioxidants, which neutralize the unstable molecules that cause cell damage. Why do healthy cells matter? “Brain fog” — attention deficit, trouble multitasking, short-term memory loss — is thought to be a sign of damaged cells.

While the influence of food on brain health is being studied intensively, scientists often observe a positive relationship yet struggle to explain how it’s achieved. The good news is, so many foods offer benefits that it’s easy to make changes starting with foods you probably already like.

Beyond Orange and Red

Orange and red foods are high in carotenoids, fat-soluble pigments often mentioned on brain-food lists. But almost any brightly colored fruit or vegetable contains pigments that offer their own benefits. We don’t yet fully understand why, but there’s plenty of science to show that eating a variety — yes, the rainbow, again — is the best way to tap their collective superpowers.

Beta carotene is another pigment associated with red and orange that, surprisingly, has some of its highest concentrations in another color: green. Asparagus, turnip and collard greens, broccoli and spinach all offer this as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals important for brain health. Because spinach and kale have more nutrients per serving than other greens, they are sometimes called superfoods. But any leafy green has beneficial nutrients and antioxidants. Don’t care for the darker greens? Start small. You don’t have to give up that iceberg lettuce, just add a little spinach or other more nutrient-dense greens to your salad mix.

Something Fishy

Fish is an excellent source of protein, but when it comes to brain health, fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon or trout, is an especially good choice because it contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which our bodies require but cannot produce. These acids are being studied for their benefits against Alzheimer’s and dementia — DHA may even help protect against the effects of head trauma. Shoot for a serving or two a week.

Legumes and Berries

Legumes like beans and peanuts (plants that form pods) as well as pulses (the seedlike structures within those pods) have fiber, iron and protein that can help with glucose regulation, preventing blocked arteries that can lead to elevated blood pressure or stroke. High fiber, low sugar and loaded with antioxidants, berries are a great choice for your brain. If you’re trying to limit sugar intake, berries are a good substitute for a sweet and tasty treat.

Whole Grains

A 2023 study showed that consumption of whole grains was “strongly associated” with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The trick is to be sure what you are consuming is indeed whole grain. The best place to check is the list of ingredients: The first should say “100 percent whole” or “whole grain,” meaning that the product contains whole grain seed, the most nutritious part of the grain. Grain products can be a mix of whole and refined flours or “multigrain,” which means a variety of grains are included but not necessarily the entire grain seed.

Be MINDful

If this sounds familiar, it might be because the MIND diet — for Mediterranean/DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay — has been getting a lot of attention for its benefits for brain health. It’s a mash-up of the Mediterranean diet — using foods and preparation styles typical of a region where conditions like metabolic syndrome and heart disease are uncommon — and “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” a heart-healthy eating plan.

The MIND diet also suggests foods to avoid or enjoy less frequently: red meat, desserts, sugary drinks, refined grains, processed and fried foods. It’s not necessary to give up your favorites: Shoot for an 80/20 split. Make 80 percent of your diet nutrient-rich, and 20 percent things you just plain love. It can be easier to add healthier items before you “take away” what you are used to. Do you look forward to a cookie every day after lunch? Add some berries with that.

Little Steps, Big Wins

Many factors related to dementia you can’t control: age, family history, genetics. Diet is one piece of the puzzle you can control, but it’s important to be reasonable and realistic in your goals. Think holistically, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Your brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum; everything in the body works together in a complicated and beautiful design. Be patient — when it comes to making healthful changes that you will stick with, slow and steady wins the race every time.

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