Be Kind to Your Brain
By Darlene Kvist, MS, CNS, LN
July 17, 2016
Here are some startling statistics compiled by the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Every 70 seconds someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s disease.
- About 500,000 Americans under 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia.
- A full quarter of the population over 65 suffers from mild cognitive impairment.
- 50 percent of Americans will contract Alzheimer’s by age 85.
Is everyone doomed to the terrifying prospect of memory loss in later years? Not according to research which has discovered that eating habits and lifestyle factors far outweigh genetics.
Bad Genes? There is Still a Lot of Hope!
Ninety percent of a person’s health—including brain health—is tied to everyday choices, while genetics account for only 10 percent. Millions of dollars are spent on finding the genetic connection to Alzheimer’s disease, but only pennies on nutrition.
A genetic linkage to a disease does not mean a person will contract that illness. It does indicate, however, an increased risk if certain environmental conditions (such as diet and lifestyle) are not properly controlled.
The statistics are clear. Unless changes to diet and lifestyle are made, 50 percent of Americans are in big trouble.
Protect Your Brain from the Inside
Think of the things people commonly do to protect their brains in case of an accident:
- We strap on helmets to bike to the Dairy Queen®. While there we consume Blizzards® that contain 48 teaspoons of processed sugar (although sugar has been largely replaced by high fructose corn syrup, which is even more damaging).
- Seat belts safeguard us in the car on the way to a fast food joint where we eat burgers and fries—along with 12 grams of trans-fats (damaged fats known to be the unhealthiest of all).
We protect our brains from the outside, but what about the foods we consume and the damage they cause from inside our bodies? Are Americans not aware of the damage that processed sugar, trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup cause? Have we become addicted to processed foods? Food manufacturers routinely add sugar and salt to processed foods while removing fiber and nutrients. These empty calories create a constant hunger for more, and the “I-can’t-stop-with-one” behavior takes over.
Sugar’s Impact on Brain Disorders
One of the hallmarks of brain aging is the decreased ability to manage glucose metabolism. With aging, cells can’t process as many sugars and carbohydrates. The once-a-year Blizzard as a child probably caused no damage, but as an adult (especially an older adult), the sugar jolt can injure precious brain cells.
Many people give themselves jolts like this on a daily basis by regularly consuming sugary foods such as cold cereal (22 teaspoons of sugar), muffins (14 teaspoons of sugar), and large Coke and French fries (35 teaspoons of sugar). The ongoing impairment of glucose metabolism combined with cell damage from high sugar foods and trans-fats can result in dementia.
Related Health Problems
The above dietary scenario can also lead to two well-publicized health problems: insulin resistance and diabetes. Changes in insulin sensitivity can result in higher blood sugar levels associated with diabetes and early biological aging. Inside the body, highly-processed, sugary foods literally age the brain before its time. Inflammation and damaged cells occur on the inside of the body. On the outside, excess sugary foods age the skin, leaving premature wrinkles.
Replacing the SAD Diet with a “Real Food” Diet
Are the poor eating habits practiced by a large segment of the population due to lack of education, or is it the deluge of processed foods that leads to food addiction? Most people understand that processed carbohydrates and trans-fats aren’t good for the body. Most people understand that vegetables and fruits are good for the body and processed cereal, candy bars and muffins are not. But foods like these commonplace in the Standard American Diet (SAD).
No matter what the reason is—if its lack of time, food addiction or something else—there are several things you can do to move away from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a real food diet:
- Replace the chicken nuggets with a piece of free-range chicken.
- Stop eating processed carbohydrates like cereal, muffins and crackers. Start eating real carbohydrates like carrots, broccoli, spinach, blueberries and melons.
- Give up the French fries, commercial cookies, candy bars, and margarine that contain trans-fats and damaged oils. Replace these with real fats that the brain needs such as avocados, olives, butter and olive oil.
- Replace soda with water to keep your brain hydrated for better memory.
The nutritional answer to preventing dementia and other brain disorders begins with eating real food and cooking at home. Real food could be the most important prevention plan of all.