Woman making salad with cruciferous vegetables for nutrition to lower Alzheimer's risk

8 Foods That May Prevent Alzheimer’s

Published: November 2021 | Updated: November 2021

You are what you eat. We’ve all heard that proverbial saying, but have you ever wondered why? Your diet impacts your health because your body uses the foods you eat to regulate biological processes, build muscle mass, maintain bone density, repair tissue, grow your hair and nails… in short, those nutrients become a part of you.

Brain health is no exception. Our eating patterns have a tremendous effect on memory, learning, thinking, and overall cognitive performance. A large body of research suggests that closely following diets that focus on regularly consuming brain-friendly foods like the MIND diet can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Eight foods that may prevent Alzheimer’s

Platter of raw food that are antioxidant-rich and nutrient-dense for brain health

Our lives revolve around food. Whether it’s at social gatherings like a holiday dinner, or enjoying a quiet evening with that special someone, the meals we share with our loved ones make for cherished memories, fun times and happy bellies.

And practicing good nutrition by incorporating nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods, like green vegetables, fruits and whole grains, into your daily meals is a great way to help maintain brain health—so you can protect life’s most precious memories.

Here are eight foods that are terrific for your brain and can help with Alzheimer’s prevention.

1. Berry good brain benefits

Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries—all sorts of berries—are rich in vitamins and antioxidants like anthocyanins, flavonoids with powerful antioxidant properties. The neuroprotective properties of berries include antioxidant activity to protect against oxidative stress in Alzheimer’s; they also help reduce inflammation, supporting brain health. Add them to smoothies, salads or enjoy as a snack.

2. Be a little nutty

Walnuts, almonds, cashews and pecans are packed with healthy fats, protein, vitamin E, magnesium and B vitamins. These nutrients have been linked to lower blood pressure and arterial health, both of which are essential for maintaining cognitive function, especially as you age. Nuts are great in salads, overnight oats, pasta dishes, or as a snack. Pro tip: mix your nuts with berries to make a brain-power snack!

3. Feast on healthy fats

Olive oil, avocados, and fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon provide fatty acids like omega-3s that are essential for a healthy brain and have been linked to reduced levels of beta-amyloid, a biomarker of an Alzheimer’s brain. Aim to eat fish twice a week (make sure to look for fish low in mercury) and try avocado toast for breakfast or as a snack.  You also can incorporate EVOO into your meals by drizzling it over your salads or making pesto pasta.

4. Go green for brain health

Spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, artichoke, asparagus, legumes and cabbage are rich in B vitamins like folate and B9, vitamin K and beta carotenoids. These nutrients have been shown to help slow down cognitive decline. Leafy greens and vegetables aren’t just for salads—add them to stews, soups, and smoothies.

5. Choose cruciferous vegetables

While you’re in the produce aisle, stock up on broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, all of which have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to cognitive decline. Sauté or roast them in the oven for the perfect side dish for your main meal (like fish!).

6. Spice up your meals

Turmeric, cumin, sage and cinnamon are rich in polyphenols, compounds associated with memory and brain health benefits. Many of the polyphenols found in these spices can cross the blood-brain barrier, positively interacting with different pathways that help reduce inflammation and plaque formation (one of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of plaques that affects healthy brain-cell-to-brain-cell communication.) Spice up your savory meals with cumin and sage, make turmeric milk, or add cinnamon to your protein smoothies.

7. Stock up on seeds

Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flax seeds are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, vitamin E, zinc, omega-3s and choline, all of which have been shown to reduce cognitive impairment. They’re great to snack on or sprinkle them on your salads. Want to eat something sweet? Try a chia pudding, or mix them into a whole-grain muffin batter.

8. Tea and cacao

Green tea is an antioxidant that famously offers many brain and whole-body health benefits, but cacao also deserves attention as a brain superfood. Cacao is loaded with antioxidants and micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, iron (and more). In recent clinical studies, cacao has been shown to enhance normal cognitive function and guard brain cells from oxidative stress, protecting against different types of cognitive decline. Add green tea to your mornings, cacao nibs to your acai bowl, or make cacao-dusted truffle balls.

Foods that could be linked to Alzheimer’s disease

Fries and hamburger that contain amounts of saturated fats that should be minimized

Unfortunately, many food staples in Western diets have been associated with higher risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease.

Studies show that moderate to high intake of red meat, saturated or trans fats (butter or margarine), baked goods and processed foods that have limited nutritional value (and often high calorie content) are linked to a higher risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.

Here are four foods to minimize (or avoid) to maintain cognitive function.

Throw out processed meats

They have poor nutritional value and are loaded with preservatives. Processed meats are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's. Try to have one or fewer servings per week.

Trash the junk food

The high content of saturated and trans fats in highly processed foods like candy, chips and fries or other fast foods, is associated with cognitive decline and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Try to limit your intake of junk food to one or fewer servings per week.

Drink mocktails instead of cocktails

High intake of alcoholic beverages and hard liquor are linked to a faster rate of cognitive decline and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.  (And let’s not forget those nasty hangovers, either!) However, studies suggest that light to moderate red wine consumption can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. It’s the antioxidant-rich resveratrol that offers neuroprotective benefits.

Skip starchy foods and sugary beverages

Minimize the consumption of these foods to one serving per week. Their high sugar content has been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

The foods you choose to eat impact everything from cognitive to whole-body health. But do you have to swear off the more “fun” foods completely? Not necessarily. As long as most of your eating habits include brain-friendly foods, occasionally having a burger or a chocolate brownie won’t hurt—and there are always healthy alternatives.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Daughter looking through photo album with senior parents to help with dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects areas of the brain associated with memory, thinking, and behavior. As the neurodegenerative disease progresses, symptoms become severe enough and interfere with daily chores.

What causes Alzheimer’s?

The underlying cause of this neurodegenerative disorder isn’t fully understood. However, research suggests that it’s the result of brain cell damage which could be the consequence of multiple factors that affect brain health, including aging, genetics, nutrition and lifestyle choices.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the accumulation of amyloid-beta protein plaques and tau protein tangles that hamper brain function. As the disease progresses, these proteins become increasingly toxic, accumulate around brain cells and injure synapses, where brain cells communicate with one another.

Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s?

According to the Alzheimer's & Dementia Journal, about 6.2 million people aged 65 and over live with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S, and this number could significantly increase, reaching 13.8 million by 2060.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s has no cure—yet. But because Alzheimer’s disease has such a global prevalence, there’s emerging research with different treatments constantly underway.

And natural interventions, such as huperzine A and lipoic acid, may make a difference, protecting cognitive function against the ravages of this disease.

What’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Dementia is an umbrella term for extensive changes in the brain that result in cognitive decline; symptoms progressively worsen and eventually interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease and the most common cause of dementia.

How can you prevent Alzheimer’s naturally?

Older man doing crossword to keep his mind active to help reduce Alzheimer's risk

There’s no surefire way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, practicing healthy eating patterns that closely follow brain-friendly diets like the Mediterranean diet or the MIND diet can help protect cognitive function and stave off the risk of Alzheimer’s.

In addition to your meal choices, building sustainable daily habits that help maintain cognitive function is another way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease naturally.

Don’t know where to start? Here are six brain-friendly habits.

1. Exercise

Regularly moving your body—brisk walks, long bike rides, Pilates— encourages your neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, brain’s ability to rewire its connections, and the production of new brain cells.

2. Active brain

You can help keep your brain sharp by learning new things, postponing retirement, and doing brain-engaging activities like crossword puzzles or sudoku. Believe it or not, the simple act of spending time with loved ones is a great way to keep your brain healthy.

3. Stress management

Your stress response is not the bad guy, but when left unmanaged, it can leave your systems working overtime. This, in turn, can lead to inflammation and damage of brain cells—which has been linked to Alzheimer’s.

4. Boost happy brain chemicals

Depression is associated with cognitive decline in old age. Combat the blues by finding hobbies and activities that help boost your “happy” neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. Not exactly a hobbyist? Spend some time outside; a regular evening walk is a great way to support brain health!

5. Maintain a healthy microbiome

Your gut and brain are intimately connected. Adding healthy sources of fiber, probiotic-rich foods, green vegetables and fruits has a positive impact on the friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract, which benefits both digestive and brain health.

6. Stay on top of your health

Empower yourself by getting regular medical checkups. Lab tests, for example, provide insight into biomarkers that are associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s—and knowing where you stand helps you make the necessary adjustments so that you can improve and maintain cognitive function.

References

By: Jessica Monge, Health & Wellness Writer

Jessica Monge has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences & neuroscience and a master's degree in comparative studies and related languages from Florida Atlantic University. She worked as a tutor, freelance writer and editor before joining Life Extension as a Copywriter.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD