Foods That Could Increase Your Dementia Risk (and What to Eat Instead)

You’ve been hearing for years about how eating a healthier diet can help prolong your life — but there’s more. Recent studies have shown certain foods can actually contribute to brain health while others have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The fact is Alzheimer’s and dementia were not nearly as prevalent 50 years ago as they are today, and the modern American diet could be largely to blame. But you can fight back against this trend. By making some changes to your diet, you can keep your brain happy — and healthy — for a long time.

Changing your diet can help to positively impact your brain health in the future and might even help to reverse some of the damage that’s already been done. A study published by the journal of Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that of 900 participants polled, those who followed recommended dietary recommendations and avoided known trigger foods had a level of cognitive function 7½ years younger than their biological age.

Here are six foods to avoid, plus six things you can do to promote brain health.

1. Sugar

Doughnuts and candy with "sugar" written in sugar

Doughnuts and candy can cause brain degeneration. | iStock.com/OcusFocus

Neuropathologist Suzanne DeLaMonte is credited with coining the term “Type 3 diabetes” when referencing Alzheimer’s disease. According to her research, sugar consumption results in insulin resistance. And regularly consuming insulin-spiking foods can eventually cause brain degeneration and dementia.

2. Processed cheese

Yes, it’s time to put down the Cheez Whiz and back away. Any processed cheese product, including string cheese and pre-wrapped sandwich slices, contains proteins that slowly build up in the body, which have been linked to Alzheimer’s.

Cheese lover? Try swapping your sandwich slices for a handful of almonds, as nuts are shown to be one of the key foods for optimal brain health. As a bonus for women, eating lots of nuts and extra virgin olive oil has also been shown to reduce your risk of breast cancer.

3. Processed meat

Lunch meat, sausage, ham, and even your beloved bacon are all problematic. These smoked meats contain carcinogenic chemical compounds called nitrosamines, which help to increase shelf life. They are linked to certain cancers and have also been found to increase brain degeneration in Alzheimer’s patients.

When lunchtime rolls around, consider a vegetarian entrée with a bean base or some healthy fish, such as salmon. Add some fresh veggies to make your meal a real power-packed brain-booster.

4. Beer

friends drinking beer together

Your brain and beer aren’t friends. | iStock.com

Even your beloved craft brew can have a scary side effect. Like processed meat, nitrosamines, or nitrates, can be used to process beer. And what’s worse is manufacturers are not required to disclose this process on the label.

Just because beer isn’t recommended for optimal brain health, it doesn’t mean you have to be a complete teetotaler. In fact, the brain-boosting MIND diet recommends you consume one glass of red wine per day.

5. White foods

This category includes items such as white bread, white rice, pasta, and any other insulin-spiking foods. Blood sugar spikes cause inflammation in your body, which is one of the suspected causes of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Instead of a sandwich, put together a healthy salad for lunch with lots of leafy greens and chopped veggies. Top it off with some fresh berries for natural sweetness, and add a protein, such as beans or even fish.

6. Carbohydrates

whole-grain bread slices with blades of wheat

Sugar spikes, even from so-called healthy carbs, aren’t good for the brain. | iStock.com

Even “healthy” whole-grain bread can cause dramatic blood sugar spikes, making it just as dangerous as white bread, bagels, and doughnuts. When you’re trying to feed your brain and prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s, it’s best to dramatically decrease the amount of carbs you’re consuming.

For a filling and brain-healthy meal, try beans. Bean-based entrees are an essential part of the MIND diet, which was created specifically for promoting brain health.

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