A healthy body mass index may lower the risk of developing dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease. Body mass indexes within the overweight and obese ranges correlate with Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses later in life. Therefore, maintaining balanced nutrition and participating in regular exercise throughout life are vitally important.
In addition, healthy food choices involving less saturated fats, as well as choosing foods responsible for lowering cholesterol, can be very helpful in preventing or delaying the onset of dementia. Lowering cholesterol and decreasing saturated fat intake can also help improve your health overall and decrease your risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Decrease saturated fats and cholesterol
Most people have heard of saturated fats and cholesterol, both of which are generally perceived to be negative components of a diet. However, both of these are important parts of a person’s daily dietary nutrition when consumed in moderation.
Saturated fatty acids are the “solid fats” found in many animal-based foods, such as butter, cream, fatty meats, and cheese. Consuming some of these foods is not bad; the negative health risks arise when you eat too much food containing saturated fats.
Unsaturated fats are considered to be healthier for a person than saturated fats, because they can help improve blood cholesterol levels and are not as likely to lead to weight gain.
Unsaturated fatty acids can be found in many plant-based foods, as well as some oils, such as olive oil, peanut oil, and corn oil. However, although unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats, they should still be eaten in moderation.
A high intake of saturated fatty acids leads to an increase in cholesterol. Two types of cholesterol exist: HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) and LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol).
Bad cholesterol leads to the formation of thick, hard plaques that accumulate in a person’s arteries, making them inflexible. Inflexible or blocked arteries can inhibit blood flow and increase the risk of developing heart disease.
In addition, high levels of bad cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. This correlation is hypothesized to be due to several factors, such as decreasing the efficiency of blood flow to the heart, which also decreases blood flow to the brain.
If the brain is not receiving enough oxygen-rich blood, then its functionality will decrease and damage can occur, which could speed the development of plaques and tangles in the brain, leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
Foods that contain saturated fatty acids include both meat and dairy products. Meat products that are high in saturated fats usually involve fat from the meat itself; for example, fatty beef, pork, and lamb are all high in saturated fat, as is the skin from poultry.
Saturated fats are also found in dairy products such as butter, lard, cream, and some types of cheeses. Having some saturated fats in your diet is fine; the problem arises when an excess of them are consumed daily.
As long as 5% to 6% or less of your daily caloric intake comes from saturated fats, the amount is not seen as dangerous in most cases. However, if 15% of your daily intake is made up of saturated fats, you are at risk for high cholesterol and thus at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Many foods that are high in saturated fats are also high in calories. This essentially means that not only can these foods contribute to high cholesterol, they can also lead to weight gain. Maintaining a healthy weight is imperative to decreasing your risk for dementia.
Individuals with higher body mass indexes have a greater likelihood of developing dementia later in life when compared to those with lower body mass indexes. This is likely due to the fact that lower calorie consumption aids in protective brain chemical processes, which help the brain in recovering from injuries or degenerations such as Alzheimer’s disease.
One way to decrease saturated fat intake and maintain a healthy body weight is to focus on consuming a healthy, balanced diet.
Healthy balanced diet
A healthy and balanced diet is an important factor to consider when working to prevent Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Having a poor diet containing too much of one type of food and not enough of another can damage your brain. This is especially true if you are consuming too much sugar or saturated fat on a daily basis.
The best defense, in terms of food and beverage consumption, is to ensure that your diet is both healthy and balanced. This does not mean that you have to give up high-sugar foods all together, but rather that they should be eaten in moderation and in conjunction with other healthy food options.
In order to have a balanced diet, you should have a daily mix of whole grains, grains, protein, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and different types of oils. Each of these food groups should be consumed every day in different amounts, but because they are such broad groups you still have a lot of options. The following checklist discusses some tips for
consuming a balanced diet with essential nutrients. Checklist: Tips for a balanced diet – Grains. Daily grain consumption should be an even mix between refined grains and whole grains. If your daily recommended grain consumption is 6 ounces, then 3 of those ounces should be whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or buckwheat products.
– Protein. Daily protein consumption can be satisfied with several different types of foods, including lean meats, eggs, beans, fish, seafood, soy products, and nuts and seeds.
– Fruits. A variety of fruit types should be consumed to get the most nutrients. Raw fruits generally have more nutritional value than store-bought fruit juices.
– vegetables. When choosing vegetables, they should be a mix of red, orange, green, and starchy vegetables.
– Dairy. Dairy products can include milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and sour cream. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products are healthier than dairy products containing fat, because much of the fat in dairy products is saturated fat. In addition, the calcium contained in dairy products is more readily absorbed in the presence of vitamin D.
– Oils. Oils, while not a food group, are an important part of a healthy diet because they provide essential nutrients. Olive oil is a healthier oil to cook with than vegetable oil or butter. Solid fats, such as lard, butter, and bacon grease, are much less healthy to cook with than the majority of oils.
The nutritional information included on most food products is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, but this is not always the healthiest option for all individuals. For example, those who are not very physically active during the day, getting less than 30 minutes of exercise, may only need 1,600 or 1,800 calories a day.
Women, in particular, generally need fewer calories a day than men. While some people may need less than 2,000 a day to maintain a healthy weight or lose excess weight, others may need 2,400 or even 2,600 calories a day to prevent abnormal weight loss.
This is generally true of individuals who are active more than 60 minutes a day and currently have a healthy weight range or individuals who have a metabolic disorder that causes unwanted weight loss.
One way to determine how many calories you should consume each day would be to check an online food plan generator, such as the one at Choose MyPlate, a government resource sponsored by the USDA.
Generators such as this one will ask your current weight, height, age, and activity level and then suggest a healthy calorie range based on these factors. Those with health concerns or special dietary needs should consult their doctors about any changes in their regular dietary habits. The following checklist provides the suggested daily amounts for each food group based on different calorie requirements.
Checklist: Daily nutrition
1,600 Calorie Diet
– Grains: 5 ounces
– Fruit: 1 ½ cups
– Vegetables: 2 cups
– Dairy: 2 ½ cups
– Protein: 5 ounces
1,800 Calorie Diet
– Grains: 6 ounces
– Fruit: 1 ½ cups
– Vegetables: 2 ½ cups
– Dairy: 3 cups
– Protein: 5 ounces
2,000 Calorie Diet
– Grains: 6 ounces
– Fruit: 2 cups
– Vegetables: 2 ½ cups
– Dairy: 3 cups
– Protein: 5 ½ ounces
2,200 Calorie Diet
– Grains: 7 ounces
– Fruit: 2 cups
– Vegetables: 3 cups
– Dairy: 3 cups
– Protein: 6 ounces
Portion size is very important when considering a balanced diet. Many people do not realize how small portion sizes should be to adhere to the calorie requirements for a 2,000 calorie or less diet. For example, a hamburger that contains a quarter pound of meat—the typical size of a small hamburger—is four ounces of protein.
For a 2,000 calorie a day diet, that one hamburger makes up almost your entire allotment of protein for the day. The amount of food that is served at restaurants is often much greater than the recommended daily amounts as well. Consider a typical steak dinner at a restaurant.
Normally, steaks served at restaurants are between 6 and 12 ounces and come with sides ranging from potatoes and cooked vegetables to a serving of French fries. If you eat the whole steak, you could actually consume up to twice the amount of protein recommended for the day and a large portion of saturated fat as well.
If a baked potato is served with the meal, that is approximately 1 cup or more from your vegetable requirement for the day, and if you add butter and sour cream to your potato, you are again increasing saturated fat consumption. If you also have cooked vegetables on the side, you could get close to 2 cups of vegetables in one meal.
All of this is not even including any appetizers, bread, or dessert that was served with the meal. Many restaurants are now required to have calorie counts listed on the menu, so portions are a bit easier to estimate, but it is still good practice to consider how much is being consumed when working to achieve a balanced diet.
By consuming a balanced diet, in place of having all protein and no vegetables or all grains and no protein, it allows your body to function at optimal health. Operating at optimal health essentially means that your whole body benefits—including your brain.
One common misconception is that the food you eat does not impact your brain health, and thus does not contribute to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In reality, the food an individual consumes has a direct impact on brain functionality. Foods that are high in sugar or fat slow down brain activity, because they eventually lead to high insulin levels.
When the high insulin levels begin to recede, a “sugar crash” occurs, in which you begin to feel sluggish, tired, and unable to process information as quickly as before. If these “crashes” occur frequently, they can cause physical, lasting damage to the memory centers of your brain.
Consuming a balanced diet helps eliminate chances for further damage by supplying the brain with nutrients needed to function at optimal capacity and protect against any harmful chemicals or cell degeneration.
A balanced and healthy diet can also help moderate body weight, especially when combined with daily exercise. Engaging in daily physical activities will not only help ensure a healthy body weight, but it can also help prevent early onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
In addition to eating healthy, getting regular exercise helps reduce the risk of dementia. In fact, engaging in regular physical activity can decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease by fifty percent.
Physical activity in this case does not mean running a few miles each day; even mild to moderate activity can help decrease the risk of developing this disease. Exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week can help improve both brain and heart health.
Some everyday activities that can contribute to this 30 minutes include swimming, walking, jogging, gardening, cleaning, walking up stairs, doing the laundry, and even grocery shopping.
Essentially, any physical activity that works to increase your heart rate will help promote brain health. The reason for this connection between exercise and the decreased risk for Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be due to the physical changes caused by exercise.
When an individual increases their heart rate through physical exercise, it causes their blood to pump through the body at a faster rate. This action in turn increases the number of small blood vessels that carry blood to the brain. With an increase in oxygenrich blood being delivered to the brain, the brain is able to function at an increased capacity.
In addition to forming small blood vessels, exercise can increase the number of connections between nerve cells. Nerve cell growth can also be attributed to increased exercise, particularly in the parts of the brain associated with learning and memory.
When an individual begins developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, many of the neural pathways in the brain become damaged or disappear entirely. Studies now show that regular physical exercise can help maintain these neural pathways, thus decreasing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, or at the very least slowing their progression considerably.
If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia or have begun to show early signs of memory loss, exercise could be extremely beneficial. In a study of a group of individuals all genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease, those who did not exercise experienced brain shrinkage over the study’s time period of a year and a half, whereas those who engaged in physical exercise did not.
Scientists studied the area of the brain responsible for short-term and long-term memory, and the individuals who did not exercise experienced a shrinkage of approximately 3 percent over a year and a half in these areas. Those who participated in mild to moderate exercise showed no change to the memory centers of their brain.
Similarly, recent studies indicate that strength or resistance training (e.g., weight lifting) can improve cognitive function in individuals with mild cognitive impairment, potentially even better than aerobic exercises.
Some people hear the word exercise and immediately think of running, jogging, or other activities that are not always enjoyed by the majority of people. However, exercise can be any physical activity that you enjoy doing that increases your heart rate.
If you do not like running, or if it is physically painful for you, then consider another activity such as swimming, biking, walking, or skating. You are much more likely to stick with an exercise routine if you enjoy the activity. Similarly, it could be helpful to find a friend to exercise with, as this will encourage both of you to continue exercising.
You and your friend, or group of friends, could plan to go to the gym a few times a week or plan to take a half hour walk each night. Setting up a regular schedule and including another person in your exercise routine can help make it more enjoyable.
Creating goals can also increase your motivation. These goals should be attainable; if you set an unrealistic goal, then you will feel defeated when you do not succeed.
Instead, begin with small, attainable goals, and be proud of yourself when you meet them. This success will then help you continue to meet larger exercise goals that you set as time goes on.
Typically, individuals who try to incorporate regular or daily exercise into their routines stop after a week or two, especially if they do not particularly enjoy exercising. If you can stick with an exercise routine for a month, the likelihood of it becoming a habit increases substantially.
Creating a habit takes approximately 28 days, at which point the activity becomes routine. If you can commit to 30 minutes of moderate physical activity—such as walking or gardening—for 28 days, the activity will be much easier to continue, because it will become part of your daily routine.
This exercise will then not only prove to be beneficial to your bodily health but to your brain health as well. Although exercise in most forms is considered to be beneficial, high impact sports that have an increased risk of head injury—such as football, hockey, boxing, and rugby —can actually increase a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Repeated head injuries can cause damage to the brain, thus increasing the likelihood of cognitive impairment developing earlier in life. If you or a loved one are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and choose to begin exercising more regularly, make sure that there is not an increased risk of head injuries associated with that physical activity.
Similarly, if you choose to exercise by riding a bike or roller skating, always make sure to wear a safety helmet in case of falls.