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Can Your Diet Reduce The Risk Of Dementia?

aged care dementia diet health nutrition Aug 29, 2022

Can a healthy diet help to reduce the risk of dementia?  
There is currently very little research that definitively proves that what you eat can reduce your risk of dementia. What is evident however, is that eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone. From helping prevent health problems and maintaining a good quality of life to fuelling our bodies with the necessary nutrients to function, a healthy diet can have many benefits for our bodies, including improving our brain health.  

Which dietary factors might reduce the risk of dementia?  
While there is no guarantee eating specific foods or following a particular diet will reduce the risk of dementia, there are proven links that diet can affect the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes - all of which are conditions that are linked to an increased risk of developing dementia.  

It is important to eat an overall balanced diet - including foods from all of the food groups (eatforhealth.gov.au). In addition, the following factors have some particular benefits: 


Dietary Fats
 
Fats are essential to our daily lives, however it is important (for most of us) to get the balance between healthy and unhealthy fats just right.  

Eating more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (healthy fats) like olive oil, nuts and seeds, lean meats, fish and avocados is important, rather than choosing saturated or trans fats (unhealthy fats) often found in baked goods, full-fat dairy products, coconut oil and fried foods. The unsaturated fats are more likely to balance cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease.  

Omega-3 Fats 
Omega-3s are an essential fatty acid that are known to have several health benefits, including reducing inflammation and aiding in cell health. Found in oily fish, like salmon, tuna and sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, nut pastes and eggs, omega-3s must be consumed in sufficient quantities for the benefits to be maximised.  

Antioxidants 
Antioxidants are substances in food that mop up waste products in the body and are thought to decrease their chances of damaging body cells, including those in the brain. There are a number of foods that are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. These are often the highly coloured foods such as fruits and vegetables eg berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, pumpkin, legumes, seafood, nuts and seeds and green tea. Antioxidants are also found in chocolate, coffee and red wine, but moderation is advised. 

Obtaining antioxidants from the food we eat is important- supplements of some antioxidants may actually do more harm than good! Eating minimally processed foods can help to maximise intake of antioxidants from the foods we eat. 

Probiotics 
There is an increasing interest in the importance of the gut and its role in brain health- it is not clear what the effect is due to, but including foods that keep the gut healthy also seems to be beneficial for the brain. 

Probiotics and probiotic foods contain bacteria that are beneficial to the gut. Good examples are yoghurt, fermented foods, sourdough, kombucha. Prebiotics are the foods that nourish and promote these good bacteria - e.g. wholegrains, legumes, fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds. 

Mediterranean Diet 
There is no one no one way of eating that is recommended for everyone, but the Mediterranean Diet offers a number of advantages for long-term health. It emphasises the importance of eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and fish, with only minimal amounts of red meat, eggs and sweets. It is rich in healthy fats, omega-3s, antioxidants and vitamins (many of the nutrients discussed above) that are linked to improved cognitive function and to overall healthy living.  

While studies are yet to confirm substantial links between these specific foods/diets and dementia, it is clear that following a healthy and balanced diet that is nutrient-rich is essential to leading a healthy life.  

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