For Cognitive Health, a Better Diet is a No Brainer
As the rate of dementia diagnoses continues to climb alongside that of the aging population, new research is emerging about the preventative bodily maintenance that can be done to slow or even prevent cognitive decline. For such a complex issue, one of the most effective solutions is simpler than you may think: our diet. Considering the high comorbidity of Alzheimer's with hypertension, elevated cholesterol, obesity, and insulin resistance, watching what we put into our bodies makes even more sense.
Researchers on Alzheimer's disease lament that many of the most common foods contributing to cognitive decline and memory loss are staples of the American diet: white breads and pastas, processed meats and cheeses, and packaged foods which are often filled with refined sugars and flour, nitrates and dicetyl. Consumption of such foods leads to inflammation and plaque accumulation in the brain. As a result, cognitive function suffers. A Columbia University study links a far slower decline, or the non-development of dementia when participants adhered to a Mediterranean-style diet paired with regular exercise. In a similar series of studies for Epidemiology, it was found that those who most closely adhered to the diet for the longest time experienced the best results. Other studies have found the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, a diet to reduce hypertension) to be even more effective than the Mediterranean or DASH diets alone.
What does this mean for those of us who make decisions about diet and food preparation for ourselves, our families or others in care? A diet from the other side of the world may sound overwhelming or mysterious, and replacing favorite foods can be difficult, especially for an aging loved one. However, improved nutrition does not need to be complicated. A shift in diet can be as simple as modifying recipes to remove or reduce added processed carbohydrates (e.g. sugar and flour) or increasing the frequency / serving sizes of fruits and vegetables while decreasing starches. The Mediterranean Diet consists of foods available at every grocery store. If you shop from the outside aisles where the produce, butcher and fish counters are located, and stay away from the middle of the store where the processed and prepared are found, you will be off to a great start. Choosing more proteins that are high in omega-3-fatty-acids - fish like salmon or cod; nuts such as almonds or hazelnuts - have been suggested to help fight the inflammation that compromises brain health.
At Independent Adult Day Care Centers, we treat diet with the same emphasis as all other areas of health and wellness. We understand that food is medicine, and that when we nourish our bodies adequately, we will experience improved health as a result. Each of our Centers has a full-service commercial kitchen. We serve continental breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack daily using high-quality ingredients, at no extra cost to our Guests. Many of our Guests receive a significant portion of their food intake at our Centers and/or through our Home Delivered Meals program, which makes the nutritional quality of our meals program that much more important. Our kitchens are free from processed and packaged foods. Our menu focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, locally pasture-raised meats, whole grains and local dairy. We also know that our Guests should enjoy their meals. We prepare a diverse and varied menu that includes comfort foods and old favorites that have been modified to eliminate added sugars and starches. We find that by using fresh, high quality ingredients, our Guests don't miss the junk fillers that we leave out. We strive to ensure that quality, health and great taste combine to help achieve cognitive wellness. To us, that's a no brainer.