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Reducing your dementia risk through nutrition

March 8, 2016

For many people, one of the biggest fears associated with aging is the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in seven Americans over 71 years of age has some form of dementia.

While home care services and senior care communities have come a long way in enabling individuals with memory impairments to live full, happy lives, there is still a long way to go. As daunting as this seems, research suggests there are ways to reduce your likelihood of developing a dementia-related illness. No surprise, it starts with what we eat. And lucky for us, March is National Nutrition Month, so there’s no better time than now to take a look! Special thanks to Concordia Dietetic Technician, Registered Ruth Douthett for contributing information for this article!

As always, consult with your healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.

fruitxAntioxidants
Antioxidants can help reduce the damage caused by free radicals and can help slow down the aging process. Free radicals in the body can cause oxidative damage that can result in altered cellular function, compromised tissue and organ function and ultimately death. Maintaining a high antioxidant level is very important for cognition and memory.

Blueberries are at the top of the antioxidant “super foods” list. Eating one cup daily can significantly improve both learning capacity and motor skills. They can be expensive, so buy them in season and freeze them, or buy them already frozen. Citrus fruits and colorful vegetables are high on the “brainy” foods list because of their high antioxidant properties as well.

Other antioxidant-rich foods include blackberries, walnuts, artichoke hearts, cranberries, raspberries, pecans and avocados.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in maintaining brain memory, performance and behavioral function. As such, eating several servings of fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, each week may help reduce your risk of developing dementia. You can also find omega-3s in almonds and walnuts, but be sure to buy the raw nuts to avoid the salt. For those who are unable to eat nuts, you may try nut butters – peanut, almond and tahini are great, just be cautious when buying if you are diabetic or have high blood pressure as they can contain sugar and salt.

We also need to limit our intake of “bad fats” found in meats and dairy products. The Chicago Health and Aging Project found that people eating large amounts of “bad fats” had more than three times the risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with people who tended to avoid them.

Green tea
It’s not just what we eat that can impact our dementia risk – it’s what we drink as well. This is a simple one. Drinking 2-3 cups per day of freshly brewed green or black tea can provide high antioxidant properties, which can also promote good blood flow to the brain. Green tea has been noted to help reduce the buildup of plaque in the brain. And because it is not fermented, it contains six times more antioxidants than black tea. Keep in mind that drinking freshly brewed tea (from tea bags) is more beneficial than bottled or powdered teas.

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Brain-health nutrients
There are three important nutrients for maintaining brain health. The first is B12. This vitamin can lower your risk for building up waste in your bloodstream, which can then damage the brain. B12 deficiency has also been known to cause memory loss. Foods high in B12 include shellfish, fish (salmon, mackerel, herring) and fortified, all bran cereals.

Next is folic acid. Great sources are green leafy vegetables, whole grain cereals, citrus fruits, beets, broccoli, tomatoes and other whole-grain products such as breads and pastas.

Last is vitamin D. Exposure to 10-15 minutes of sunlight per day on the arms and legs is recommended. Good sources of dietary vitamin D are cheese, butter, oysters, salmon, tuna, fortified cereal and eggs.

Chocolate, duh
Dark chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties. It contains natural stimulants that enhance focus and concentration and stimulates the production of endorphins, which help improve mood.  Approximately 0.5 to 1 oz of dark chocolate per day is enough to provide these benefits. When purchasing, look for a high percentage of cacao to reap the health benefits.

Dietary concerns are one of the many reasons to turn to senior living communities that offer well-balanced meals each day. Even if some cooking is done in your apartment, senior communities should always make sure trips to the market for fresh foods are arranged no less than once each week.

Unlock health, happiness and so much more in your retirement years by moving into one of the beautiful senior living communities of Concordia Lutheran Ministries. With one of the area’s most extensive network of senior care services and locations, you are certain to find just the right fit for all of your personal care and living needs. Start embracing your retirement years with help from Concordia Lutheran Ministries.

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