The Possible Role Processed Foods Play in Alzheimer’s

Processed foods are seemingly unavoidable. Most of the grocery store is filled with them. It’s hard in today’s busy world to carve out time for healthy, fresh eating every time. But you may want to try a little harder, as research shows that processed foods could play a role in contributing to Alzheimer’s disease. We see families in hospice for their loved ones struggle with choosing healthy foods for both themselves, their children and their aging parents suffering from dementia. For our San Francisco clients and beyond, Pathways Home Health and Hospice aims to educate you on this recent research.

The statistics are staggering: by the year 2050, there will be 15 million Alzheimer’s patients in this country, which is approximately the population of NYC, Los Angeles and Chicago combined. You’ll need a few extra cities on top of that just to take care of them. This epidemic has been going on for a long time and it’s only slated to get worse, prompting more and more researchers to find out just what the heck is exacerbating the problem. Many assume Alzheimer’s is inevitable — something that just comes with age or bad genes. But it seems there’s more to it. And it could have a lot to do with what we’re putting in our bodies as a result of lifestyle and dietary choices.

Extensive studies, like this BMJ one, have already linked ultra-processed food intake with higher overall cancer risk, where a 10 percent increase in the proportion of processed foods was associated with a big increase in risks overall and of breast cancer. With Alzheimer’s, the same kinds of findings are popping up. Scientists used to think that Alzheimer’s was largely genetic, but in point of fact, only about one percent of the population develops the disease due to genetic mutations. The rest, just like other conditions like heart disease and diabetes, stem mostly from behavioral and lifestyle factors. In fact, researchers think one third of all Alzheimer’s cases could be prevented through improvements in lifestyle. Eating better is one way to achieve that, and that means cutting out as much processed foods as we can.

Healthy Foods May Stop Cognitive Decline

The latest study, recently released in London, didn’t so much focus on specific foods but rather on better diets as a whole where natural foods and nutrients work together to provide benefits. Of course, many suggestions abound, such as eating more leafy greens like spinach or eating antioxidant-rich blueberries. These foods have been found to reduce inflammation, which has been strongly implicated with cognitive decline, says the AARP. It could also be that a high-quality diet offers vast advantages to the vascular system, which affects brain health.

Scientists stress that you don’t have to completely overhaul your diet in order to get the benefits. It could be as simple as choosing whole grains over white flour or using olive or coconut oil when cooking rather than vegetable oil. They concluded that even small changes can have a significant impact.

Some suggestions for improving diet, which researchers call the MIND diet, include:

  • Eat three servings or more of whole grains per day, such as oats and brown rice.
  • Steer clear of processed white flour and sweets.
  • Eat plenty of leafy green vegetables. Try a salad and another vegetable every day.
  • Treat yourself to one glass of wine a day, preferably with dinner.
  • Snack on some un-salted almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts, which are high in fiber, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids (these are great in the fight against inflammation that has been known to adversely affect brain health).
  • Eat fish once a week for omega-3s, such as salmon.
  • Eat two servings of berries a week, especially blueberries which are high in antioxidants and can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • Go with olive oil over butter or processed margarine.
  • Avoid full-fat cheese and red meat, eating these only sparingly.
  • Try beans, such as kidney, chickpea or lima, eating these every other day.

Why Do Certain Foods Induce Memory Loss?

The brain needs healthy fuel for optimal functioning, just like any other area of your body. It needs a variety of healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and vitamins and minerals. Eating too few of these foods and too many complex carbohydrates, processed foods and sugar can stimulate the production of toxins, which in turn result in inflammation. This is the build-up of plaques in the brain that can impair your overall cognitive function, says

Avoiding foods that hamper your memory can only help you out later in life when Alzheimer’s has a tendency to creep in. Avoid white bread, pasta, processed meats, and cheeses, which have all been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Your loved one’s hospice care team is comprised of a dietitian who ensures patients get the nutrition they need. Contact us at 888-755-7855 to learn more about our Alzheimer’s and caregiver services.