Alzheimer's is a devastating disease of the mind and body, and can take a significant toll on its victims, as well as their caretakers. And while there currently is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, studies show there are lifestyle practices, specifically dietary tweaks, you can adapt to prevent Alzheimer's disease. And here's the really encouraging part: these lifestyle changes may also slow the cognitive decline of those afflicted, even during it’s latest stages.
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1. Eat Mostly Plants
Meat consumption, as well as eggs and high-fat dairy foods, are associated with a higher risk for Alzheimer's disease. In fact, studies show that higher consumption of animal protein and fat directly correlates to a higher risk of cognitive decline. On the flip side, high consumption of plant foods is associated with reduced risk for decline.
Here’s what’s going on in the brain:
The suppression of enzymes called sirtuins may play a big role in Alzheimer's. Scientists believe sirtuins promote healthy aging and longevity, as sirtuin activity steers your brain away from plaque formation. Studies show surtuin suppression is brought on the glycotoxins in our diet (specifically, diets high in fat and animal protein), and may be associated with the accumulation of the plaque buildup in the brain that's indicative of Alzheimer's disease.
2. Avoid Highly Cooked Foods and High Fat Foods
Those glycotoxins suppress sirtuin enzyme activity, but what are they and where do they come from? Glycotoxins are infamously known for forming during smoking cigarettes. They also form while cooking foods on high heat, like we often do with meat and fried foods.
Have you ever heard that cooking oil at a high temperature can be carcinogenic? It’s true! These glycotoxins are inflammatory and can be damaging to your cells. The biggest source of dietary glycotoxins is found in none other than chicken (yes, the meat often marketed as a healthy choice).
Oh, and did you know that our brains actually shrink as we age? That’s right, we actually lose brain mass and our brains physically shrink. They did a study to see if diet had anything to do with brain shrinkage and found out that what you eat has a significant impact on exactly how much of your brain you lose each year. Not surprisingly, those who ate a plant based diet saw zero brain shrinkage in this 4 year study, as opposed to the group on the Standard American Diet, which is high in fats and refined sugars. As it turns out, diet plays a huge role in brain health and homeostasis.
So the moral of the story? The more low fat and plant-based foods, especially raw plant foods, you can add to your diet, the less likely you are to develop a cognitive disease later in life.
3. Spice Things Up with Saffron and Turmeric
It’s always really exciting when studies compare whole foods to lab created medications (at least for us in the WFPB community, LOL!). It’s even more exciting when the plants perform just as well as the medications, as was the case with spices saffron and turmeric.
When scientists tested the use of saffron (the spice) to Memantine (the drug) to prevent amyloid plaque formation in the brain, they found that saffron worked just as effectively. But saffron didn’t induce vomiting, which is a common side effect with the use of Memantine.
Saffron, similarly to turmeric, is incredibly high in antioxidants! These compounds that inhibit oxidation are neuroprotective and are powerful in combating oxidative stress that causes neurodegenerative disease.
Fun fact: if you consume your turmeric with just a dash of black pepper, the curcumin (antioxidative property) is activated by 2,000 percent. So each time you add this bright yellow spice to your golden latte or curry, be sure to add just a pinch of black pepper.
Here's our favorite turmeric latte recipe, by the way – dairy-free, of course!
4. Load Up on Blueberries, Red Grapes, and Strawberries
Speaking of antioxidants, have you ever heard someone say that they drink red wine “for the antioxidants.” They’re not wrong, per se! Red grapes are loaded with antioxidants (as are blueberries and strawberries) — but when it comes to brain health, it might best to get those antioxidants in the whole food form like eating grapes instead of drinking wine (alcohol is a neurotoxin, after all)
Pro Tip: Snack on frozen red grapes. They taste like candy!
5. Dark Leafy Greens Are a Must
While dark leafy greens are good for so many reasons, they are especially benefitical for brain health and to prevent Alzheimer's disease! Why? Dark leagy greens contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which are xanthophyll carotenoids. These carotenoids are dominant in human brain tissue, so if you’re looking to keep that tissue strong, eat tons of spinach, kale, Bok choy and mustard greens, which are associated with less cognitive decline with age.
Don't love leafy greens? That's OK! Here's how to sneak more leafy greens into your diet.
BONUS: This One's for the Carb Lover's
Although there have been no double blind placebo studies to prove it, cultural data suggests that those who enjoy a diet rich in whole grains are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.
Drink 3+ times a week for best results
1 cup of non-dairy milk
1 frozen banana
⅓ cup of frozen red grapes
⅓ cup of frozen strawberries
⅓ cup of frozen Maine blueberries
½ teaspoon of fresh or powdered turmeric
A small pinch of black pepper
1 cup of fresh Spinach
Beyond Food: 5 Things to Do Everyday for Boosted Brain Health
Yep, diet is really important when it comes to your cognitive health. But these 5 other lifestyle factors play a big role, too.
1. Crossword Puzzles
According to the Alzheimer’s association, doing crossword puzzles daily is good for your brain! And even better if you do puzzles in a group.
2. Staying in Touch With Friends and Family
Speaking of groups, studies show that having close friends may keep mental decline at bay.
3. Meditation and Breathing Exercises
Did you know when you inhale deeply you release nitric oxide into your lungs, which dilates your airways AND your blood vessels in the lungs, which means you get more oxygen in your body and your brain. Here are some of our favorite meditation resources to help you focus on your breath (and your brain).
4. Moving Your Body
Physical activity is good for your whole body, including your brain. Aerobic exercise in particular can boost blood flow to your brain, improve cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, and lower levels of stress hormones. So get moving!
5. Identifying a Purpose in Life
This is a big one and can mean so many different things to different people, but having a purpose in life protects your memory and cognitive abilities, especially as you age.
- By moving away from high fat animal proteins and eating more whole plant-based foods, you may be able to prevent Alzheimer's disease and slow cognitive decline.
- Some of the best brain-boosting WFPB foods for Alzheimer's prevention include: raw plant-based foods, antioxidant-rich spices like saffron and turmeric, grapes and berries, and dark leafy greens.
- Beyond diet, you can stay sharp by adding more crossword puzzles to your life, keeping in touch with family and friends, doing meditation and breathin exercises, exercising, and having a life purpose!
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.