Understanding nutrition and dementia: why nutrition is important

Following a dementia diagnosis, it’s important to learn every thing that you can about learning to live with dementia. There are many things that you can do to delay progression, as well as ensuring that you live a good quality of life. It’s vital to get regular exercise, as well as eating properly so that you get the right nutrition. In this article, we will look at why nutrition is important for people with dementia.

Why nutrition is important

Your brain needs the right fuel to keep it functioning properly. To simulate one second of brain activity, we would need around 100,000 computer processors so as you can imagine, if the brain’s cells, synapses and neural pathways are not given the fuel to complete all this work, it would encounter problems. If you go without food for a while, your body starts to tell you; you become tired, you are unable to concentrate or focus on tasks, and in extreme cases of tiredness, you might hallucinate. Although the brain is relatively small, it uses up to 25% of our daily energy.

Now imagine a brain that is coping with dementia. Dementia damages brain cells, gradually killing them off, Alzheimer’s is a common form of dementia and is caused by abnormal deposits of protein in the brain that destroy cells in the areas of the brain that control memory and mental functions.

Depending on the area of the brain the dementia affects, it will cause different types of issues.

This video from the Alzheimer’s Society briefly describes it:

The Alzheimer’s Society has a series of videos on YouTube about the brain and dementia, should you wish to learn more.

The right nutrition to keep the brain functioning will include amino fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, just like we all do. Some foods will help to improve memory and cognitive function. If we consistently eat the wrong things, our stomach sends hormones to the brain, resulting in stress and this affects our ability to focus and process information.

Foods to help memory and cognitive function

These foods overall can really help with cognitive function, whether you have dementia or not. Although nutrition is not going to stop the dementia, it is possible in some people to slow the progression, combined with regular exercise.

Avocados are a good source of vitamin K and folate, both of which are good for cognitive functioning health, memory and concentration, as well as preventing blood clots in the brain. Although avocados are though of as being full of fat, it is the good kind of fat; mono-saturates, which your blood sugars steady.

Beetroot reduces inflammation as well as boost blood flow to the brain, helping with mental performance via its natural nitrates.

Extra virgin olive oil has polyphenols that are powerful antioxidants including extra virgin olive oil in your diet can help to improve learning and memory. It also helps fight against the proteins that are toxic to the brain and induce Alzheimer’s. It is important however, to use extra virgin olive oil as it is; it doesn’t react well to being heated.

Dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and broccoli for example, are all packed with antioxidants, fibre and minerals. Including dark leafy greens in your diet every day can help protect brain health and cognitive decline as you age. The folate in leafy greens can also help fight off depression which is common in people with dementia.

Egg yolks contain healthy nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acid, folate, vitamin B12 and selenium. Dementia has been associated with acetylcholine deficiencies and eggs, specifically the yolks, contain choline, which is an essential nutrient for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; this has an important role to play in memory.

Rosemary can protect the brain against chemical free radicals, which are linked to neurodegeneration, it’s easy to include rosemary in a meal or salad. It has recently been found that smelling rosemary can improve memory too.

Foods to help with energy and reduce stress

Some people with dementia can become very active, needing to walk around a lot and keep themselves busy. This can cause weight loss and irritability if they are not getting enough energy into their system to fuel them amply.

Blueberries are good for providing satiation for a sweet tooth, as well as giving a quick source of energy that releases slower than a sugary food. As well as fibre, vitamin A and vitamin K, blueberries also contain gallic acid which is good for reducing stress.

Nuts are a particularly healthy snack; cashews, almonds, and hazelnuts are high in magnesium, which converts sugar into energy, nuts are also high in fibre.
Brazil nuts a high in selenium which is good for fighting depression. Having 4 or 5 brazil nuts a day can keep selenium levels healthy.

Dark chocolate is actually good for you if you choose bars that contain 70% cocoa solids or more. It is full of antioxidants, and provides a longer burning energy source than standard milk chocolate.

Whole grains such as wholemeal bread, oats, and quinoa provide a slow burning energy source as well as a good amount of dietary fibre.

Always monitor eating habits for someone with dementia, as mealtimes can become difficult as the dementia progresses.

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