How important is what you put into your mouth?
I’ve often heard female friends exclaim while eating a decadent piece of cake that it’s going straight to their hips. Well, what if that piece of food was actually contributing to your chance of having Alzheimer’s. It turns out that it might.
New York Times reporter Gina Kolata reported recently on two large studies that have discovered five new genes that increase the likelihood of the disease in the elderly. In addition, these genes “provide tantalizing clues about what might start Alzheimer’s and fuel its progress in a person’s brain,” she wrote, adding that these genes tend to be involved with both cholesterol and inflammation. “For years, there have been unproven but persistent hints that cholesterol and inflammation are part of the disease process," Kolate stated. "People with high cholesterol were more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, strokes and head injuries, which make Alzheimer’s more likely, also cause brain inflammation.”
So if you’re like me and have a history of Alzheimer’s in the family, you want to be proactive in changing your diet so you do everything possible to avoid this terrible disease. So what should you eat?
The Mayo Clinic notes, “A few simple tweaks to your diet — like these — may be enough to lower your cholesterol to a healthy level and help you stay off medications.” Recommendations include:
- Oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods. The soluble fiber helps reduce the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (which is the “bad” cholesterol) and reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the blood stream. The Mayo Clinic recommends eating 5-10 grams or more of this type of fiber daily in order to decrease your total and LDL cholesterol. Foods high in soluble fiber include oatmeal, kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes.
- Fish and omega-3 fatty acids. The Mayo Clinic recommends this dietary inclusion because high levels of omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce blood pressure as well as the risk of blood clots. Try for at least two servings of baked or grilled fish a week, and opt for mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, and halibut (which have the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids). You also can get small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from ground flaxseed and canola oils. An omega-3 or fish oil supplement also can provide some of the benefits, although the Mayo Clinic notes that you won’t benefit from other nutrients in fish, such as selenium.
- Walnuts, almonds and other nuts. These nuts can reduce cholesterol and help keep blood vessels healthy. Eating most unsalted or unsugared nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts) may reduce the risk of heart disease. However, the Mayo Clinic does warn, “All nuts are high in calories, so a handful will do. To avoid eating too many nuts and gaining weight, replace foods high in saturated fat with nuts. For example, instead of using cheese, meat or croutons in your salad, add a handful of walnuts or almonds.”
- Olive oil. Using this oil, which contains a large amount of antioxidants, can lower LDL cholesterol while not harming “good” (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) cholesterol. The recommended daily use of olive oil is 2 tablespoons. Beware of using a lot more since olive oil is high in calories.
- Foods that have added plant sterols or stanols. These foods, which have been fortified with sterols or stanols, can help block the absorption of cholesterol. The Mayo Clinic reports, “Margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks with added plant sterols can help reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent. The amount of daily plant sterols needed for results is at least 2 grams — which equals about two 8-ounce (237-milliliter) servings of plant sterol-fortified orange juice a day.”
- Cutting cholesterol and total fat from your diet. Saturated fats found in meat, full-fat dairy products and some oils will raise total cholesterol levels. Additionally, trans fats (which can be found in margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes) raise the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower the “good” cholesterol (HDL).
These recommendations provide lots of food for thought about dietary changes we can make. In my next sharepost, I’ll share information on what an anti-inflammatory looks like.