Meals to Remember

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More and more research studies suggest a connection between healthy diet and brain health, but new research shows evidence that what we eat as we age may need to change. A study of 139,000 elderly Australians by Dr. Luna Xu, a UTS research fellow, discovered strong associations between certain food groups, loss of memory and comorbid heart disease or diabetes. 1

In his study, Dr. Xu found that a high intake of fruit and vegetables was associated with lowered odds of memory loss and its comorbid heart disease. Increased intake of foods high in protein was linked with a better memory. 1 A higher RDA for protein (1.2 to 2.0 grams per kg) in those over 70 has been proposed to prevent sarcopenia as well. 2

In addition, Dr Xu found that an association between memory status and food group can differ among different older age groups. For example, individuals over the age of 80 with low intake of cereal are the highest risk for memory loss plus its comorbid heart disease. She notes that her current study suggests that older adults should increase their cereal intake to aid in memory loss prevention and comorbid heart disease. She believes there should be age-specific dietary guidelines. 1

One of the main early symptoms in individuals with dementia is memory loss. In Australians, dementia is the second leading cause of death. Those living with dementia have between two and eight other comorbid conditions, which may exacerbate cognitive and functional impairment. Diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease are the most common comorbidities in dementia. Older populations often deal with multiple chronic conditions at once, which can make nutritional intervention challenging, according to Dr. Xu. Scientific evidence suggests dietary intervention in the prevention and management of co-existing chronic diseases. 1

While US Dietary Guidelines don’t focus specifically on various age groups, dietitians working with older individuals (over 80) may suggest the following, which is consistent with the MIND diet (a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diet) 3:

  • Eat green leafy vegetables daily- research from Rush university suggests 1 serving of leafy vegetables (1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw) has been found to reduce memory loss and improve cognition and slow brain aging by 11 years. 4
  • Add blueberries to your daily diet. Anthocyanins in blueberries have been found to reduce inflammation and increase neural signaling. 5
  • Include foods containing omega-3-fatty acids regularly such as salmon and walnuts. Both reduce inflammation and are heart-healthy. More research on omega-3-fatty acid supplements is needed. 6
  • Choose low-sugar whole grain cereal such as rolled oats, quinoa or bran cereal which provide fiber to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease 3
  • Reduce red meat, processed meat (such as deli meat), high sugar, high fat desserts and beverages. 3

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

References:

  1. Xiaoyue Xu, Mabel Ling, Sally C. Inglis, Louise Hickman, Deborah Parker. Eating and healthy ageing: a longitudinal study on the association between food consumption, memory loss and its comorbidities. International Journal of Public Health, 2020; DOI: 10.1007/s00038-020-01337-y
  2. Jamie I. Baum,1,* Il-Young Kim,2 and Robert R. Wolfe2 Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake? Nutrients. 2016 Jun; 8(6): 359.
  3. Martha Clare Morris, S.D.,1 Christy C. Tangney, Ph.D.,2 Yamin Wang, Ph.D.,1 Frank M. Sacks, M.D.,5 David A Bennett, M.D.,3,4 and Neelum T. Aggarwal, M.D.3,4 MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Sep; 11(9): 1007–1014.
    https://www.rush.edu/news/press-releases/daily-leafy-greens-may-slow-cognitive-decline
  4. ROBERT KRIKORIAN,*† MARCELLE D SHIDLER,† TIFFANY A NASH,†# WILHELMINA KALT,‡ MELINDA R VINQVIST-TYMCHUK,‡ BARBARA SHUKITT-HALE,§ and JAMES A JOSEPH§ Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14; 58(7): 3996–4000.
    https://www.j-alz.com/content/can-omega-3-help-prevent-alzheimers-disease
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