Dementia is a disease that affects most of us at some time in our lives, if it doesn’t take our own family member, then friend’s. According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, 850,000 people in the UK are estimated to be living with dementia, with only 537,097 of these cases diagnosed. They predict that 1 million people in the UK will have dementia by 2025.
These figures are upsetting, but while doctors are working on treatments, we all need to rely on preventative measures. One such measure is to take advantage of foods containing antioxidants, vitamin B12, and folate, which are all vital vitamins and minerals for cognitive function. For those following a vegan diet you should supplement vitamin B12. Non vegan sources of vitamin B12 include fish, poultry, meat, milk and eggs.
Here are 8 foods you can add to your diet to help fight back against dementia and change this distressing statistic.
Blueberries have truly earned their “superfood” title. They are one of the top foods to prevent dementia, as they contain flavonoids which activate brain pathways associated with less cellular aging. In addition, they are a brilliant source of vitamin C which helps to protect your cells against damage and helps your body to absorb iron, and contain extraordinary antioxidants which help to preserve blood vessels and collagen.
In fact, all berries are good for both your body and brain health so make sure you are eating at least a handful of blueberries per day along with other berries you like. It’s easy to snack on berries throughout the day or add them to salads if you like a kick of something sweet!
If you don’t already eat broccoli regularly, now is the time to start. Broccoli is a good source of fibre and protein, contains iron, potassium, calcium, selenium, and magnesium (which is vital for healthy brain function), as well as vitamins A, C, E, and K.
Vitamin K has an antioxidant effect which prevents brain cells (and all other cells!) from being destroyed by free radicals, which are unstable atoms that act a little like a bull in a china shop when they get inside your cells.
Try to steam or boil your broccoli (rather than frying or roasting) as this better preserves health benefits, which also includes lowering your risk of heart disease, as it reduces bad cholesterol. Add other cruciferous vegetables to your diet, such as cauliflower, kale, and brussels sprouts, as these have similar benefits for your health.
Spinach was Popeye’s favourite food for a reason! Besides being generally great for your health, it’s an important food for fighting dementia as it is full of brain-boosting antioxidants and contains high levels of vitamin K which also helps to maintain bone health. Importantly, this leafy green is full of vitamins A, B2 and C, folate, manganese, and magnesium.
Its richness in iron improves blood quality, allowing for better efficiency of oxygen being transported around your body, which is extremely important for brain function.
Chickpeas are another great option for preventing dementia due to a combination of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Chickpeas contain choline which helps with brain and nervous system function, such as mood, muscle control, learning, and memory. They are also a great source of protein while being low in calories and fat, so are a great substitute for meat if you’re looking to cut meat down or out of your diet.
Chickpeas are great all-round for bone, muscle, and skin health, too. All beans and lentils play an important role in maintaining mental health, so make sure you are adding them to your diet regularly – daily, if possible.
Walnuts are high in antioxidants, healthy fats and fibre. Possibly most importantly, they are high in omega-3 fatty acids. This is a brain-protective nutrient which reduces oxidative stress in the brain and helps to improve brain signalling.
Vitamin E, folate, and ellagic acid are also all found in walnuts which all aid in neuroprotection and memory function. Additionally, they contain iron, selenium (possible particular importance to cognitive function), calcium, zinc, and some B vitamins. Some studies have shown that they can even help to lower cholesterol leading to a reduced risk of heart disease. You really can’t go wrong with a walnut! Note that all unsalted nuts are good for you in moderation due to their high antioxidant content so they make a great snack, especially if you eat a plant-based diet and don’t get omega-3 oils from fish.
6. Red, Orange and Yellow Bell Peppers
While we’re zooming in on red and yellow bell peppers here, it’s worth noting that any vegetable rich in yellow, orange and yellow pigment is rich in phytonutrients, which has been shown to lower the risk of depression and an overall better sense of wellbeing.
These brightly coloured foods are rich in those important antioxidants we’ve been talking about, which help prevent oxidisation of cells which leads to them to breakdown. Of course, tomatoes, chilis, and other coloured vegetables are also great for your brain health.
7. Olive Oil
Try to dress salads and cook with olive oil over other oils. It contains monounsaturated fats which help cells to preserve their integrity, vitamin E to counteract vision loss, as well as antioxidants which slow the natural aging process of the body, including the brain. It also works to boost brain development in children so is important for the whole family. Although more research is needed, there is evidence to suggest that olive oil can help to remove the harmful plaques that could build up in your brain cells and cause dementia. Not only does it make everything taste great, but it is also good for the brain!
8. Edamame Beans
Edamame beans have only recently become popular for the general public here in the UK, but they are full of folate, which has also been linked to a reduced risk of depression, lower blood pressure, and healthy brain function. While you’ll find them commonly thrown into supermarket salads, you can also buy them whole in lightly salted pods for an easy (and fun) snack, and of course, anything made with soya beans (like tofu) contains the same benefits
These are just some of the foods you can easily add to your diet to help prevent dementia and improve your overall health, so start eating a diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals from fresh produce, where possible. If you’re ready to learn more, here are 8 vegetables you should add to your diet for better health or find out more about reducing the symptoms of migraines.