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Eat to Beat Dementia

How purple food, turmeric and even coffee could help boost your memory

Research into the links between what we eat and our risk of developing dementia is still new, but some foods do have the potential to reduce our risk of developing the condition

Ten years ago, I was contacted by a family whose elderly mum was fading away before their eyes. This wonderful lady had dementia, which was causing her difficulties with swallowing that made it hard for her to eat.

The family had been advised to puree her dinners in a blender, but, understandably, their mum didn’t want to eat the grey mush this produced.

I’ve been a dietitian for 25 years (and a trained Cordon Bleu chef), with a client list that includes top sports people, actors and singers, so I knew there was a better way to give her the nourishment she needed.

I showed them how to make delicious, savoury custards to provide their mum with protein and energy. I pointed them to foods such as oily fish, which may slow down the progression of dementia. And I showed how simple changes in her mealtime routine could make eating enjoyable again.

It worked. The family felt empowered and their mum thrived.

That lady and her family helped me, too, because they changed my career. Now I run a specialist practice supporting people with cancer and dementia, and I’ve just launched a website (nourishbyjaneclarke.com) to support people with dementia and other serious health conditions with expert nutritional advice, practical tips and delicious recipes, free for all.

Dementia is an umbrella term for one of the biggest health crises of our times — a range of disorders that prevent brain cells working properly and cause symptoms that include memory loss, confusion, poor communication and, less well known, but as significant, eating problems such as loss of or a hugely increased appetite, chewing and swallowing difficulties that may cause choking and infection, and dehydration.

There are 850,000 people in Britain with the condition; a number set to rise to more than one million by 2025 and more than two million by 2050, says Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Sixty-two per cent of people with dementia are female, the condition is the leading cause of death among women in the UK.

It’s not just the person with dementia that’s affected. There are 700,000 informal carers who look after loved ones with the condition and that figure is projected to reach 1.7 million by 2050.

Anthocyanins — the antioxidants found in berries — were shown in one study to improve memory and brain function in a group of people with mild cognitive impairment

These are sobering figures, but it’s important to know there are steps we can take to reduce significantly our risk of developing dementia — and to stave off the effects of the condition if we do begin to experience symptoms.

It starts with a varied diet full of nutrient-rich wholegrains, fruits and vegetables that are associated with reduced incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer and stroke — all illnesses that increase our risk of developing dementia.

In addition, we should eat brain-friendly foods and avoid foods linked to an increased risk of dementia.

When dementia is diagnosed, eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may slow down the progression of the disease by helping to maintain the nerve cells in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, a key player when it comes to our memory.

It’s why dietitians and nutritionists recommend eating a couple of portions of oily fish — such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines — each week. High levels of the naturally occurring amino acid homocysteine have been linked to risks of Alzheimer’s.

Folic acid and vitamin B12, found in green leafy vegetables, have been shown to lower homocysteine levels and reduce brain shrinkage in people with early memory problems, but their potential to reduce dementia symptoms is still being investigated.

Anthocyanins — the antioxidants found in berries — were shown in one study to improve memory and brain function in a group of people with mild cognitive impairment.

Folic acid and vitamin B12, found in green leafy vegetables, have been shown to lower homocysteine levels and reduce brain shrinkage in people with early memory problems, but their potential to reduce dementia symptoms is still being investigated

A recent trial found that a Mediterranean diet including olive oil and nuts helped to maintain memory and thinking skills, compared with a low-fat diet.

Curcumin, an extract of turmeric, is raising interest among dementia researchers because it appears to break down amyloid-beta plaques, a signifier of Alzheimer’s.

Knowing what we should eat ourselves, or give to a loved one with dementia, is one thing — but it can be difficult to translate that into meals that are tempting, nourishing and easy to get down if one has a swallowing difficulty or similar issue.

Caring for someone who is poorly can also be physically exhausting and emotionally demanding — something my family and I know all too well.

I worked with Jamie Oliver on his campaign to improve school food for our children, and I want my Nourish website to be just as revolutionary.

It’s a basic human right to have access to the nutrition and sustenance we need, but too many people with dementia are given the wrong thing to eat and may suffer a worsening of their condition, and even malnutrition, as a result. No one deserves that.

With the support of Prue Leith as patron, and the campaigning power of websites Gransnet and Mumsnet behind us, we can bring about change and improve the lives of people living with dementia.

DEMENTIA-PROOF YOUR DIET
Research into the links between what we eat and our risk of developing dementia is still new, but some foods do have the potential to reduce our risk of developing the condition, when eaten as part of a healthy, Mediterranean diet.

~ WHAT TO EAT ~

Kale: The superfood, along with its dark-green cousins, spinach and cabbage, is rich in folate, which helps reduce homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine can damage nerve cells and are linked to a greater risk of dementia.

Purple foods: Powerful anti-oxidants called anthocyanins give fruit and veg such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries, grapes, red onions, aubergine and red cabbage their colour. Anthocyanins have potential to improve memory and prevent cognitive decline.

Healthy fats: Olive oil and rapeseed oil, nuts and seeds, including walnuts and pumpkin seeds, and oily fish such as mackerel, herring, pilchards and sardines, are all packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce dementia risks. They also appear to slow down memory loss after a dementia diagnosis.

Turmeric: This bright orange spice is on the radar for potential cancer-fighting properties, but it may help prevent dementia, too.

It breaks down plaques in the brain associated with a greater risk of Alzheimer’s. Scientists are looking at using it to create treatments for the condition.

Turmeric is on the radar for potential cancer-fighting properties, but it may help prevent dementia, too

Coffee: Various studies show that caffeinated coffee may protect the brain from inflammation and reduce the progression of memory problems, but the link between coffee and a reduced risk of dementia hasn’t been proven.

~ WHAT TO AVOID ~

Trans fats: Repeated studies indicate a link between a diet high in trans fats — found in processed and fried foods — and cognitive disorders, including dementia.

The brain is rich in fatty acids, which help cells to communicate with each other. Trans fats replace the brain’s healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids.

Alcohol: Heavy drinking has been shown to damage short-term memory and increase the risk of developing dementia, so stick to NHS guidelines (no more than 14 units a week for men and women, spread over three or more days).

Smoking: Smoking leads to narrowing of the arteries, which increases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

Lack of exercise: Aerobic exercise that raises the heart rate can reduce the risk of dementia by 30 per cent and cut the risk of Alzheimer’s by 45 per cent.

~ FOOD RULES THAT REALLY WORK ~

Keep calm: A routine is reassuring for someone with dementia — eating ten minutes later, sitting at a different table or with people they don’t usually eat with can be upsetting. Perhaps sit at the table to encourage your loved one to eat, but then enjoy your own meal later with other family or friends.

Reduce distractions: We juggle so many tasks when caring for someone, but try to slow down at mealtimes to help the person focus on eating and swallowing. It helps not to have the TV on, though music can calm the situation.

Be flexible, though. If someone living with dementia gets frustrated when eating, enjoying a few nibbles in front of the TV can provide valuable nourishment.

Be patient: If the person living with dementia is unresponsive or drowsy, wait a while before asking them to eat, to avoid choking.

Create a food moodboard: Put up snaps of birthday meals and family picnics, plus pictures of favourite recipes, to remind the person of the foods they loved to eat.

Tempt the appetite: A plateful of food can seem too much to tackle, so try serving foods in small bowls.

For more information, go to nourishbyjaneclarke.com

~ HER TEMPTING RECIPES ~

CARROT & COCONUT SOUP

This recipe, which contains dementia-friendly turmeric, was created by Nourish champion Amanda Davies. Coconut milk makes it rich in calories, so it’s ideal for anyone struggling to eat.

4 largish carrots

½ onion

1 garlic clove, crushed or chopped

Spoonful of coconut oil or a dash of olive oil

200ml coconut milk

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp of turmeric

Pinch of salt

Piece of fresh ginger (optional)

300ml vegetable stock (adjust to your preferred consistency)

Fresh chopped coriander to serve (optional)

1. Chop the carrots and onions in a chunky style.

2. Place in a roasting dish in a single layer and mix through the garlic and oil.

3. Roast in the oven at 200c for 30 to 40 minutes until carrots are soft with some browned edges.

4. Allow to cool slightly.

5. Blend roasted vegetables with the remaining ingredients to make a smooth or textured soup, as you prefer.

6. Warm gently on a low heat until heated through.

SMOKED TROUT PATÉ

Trout is very rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fats are known to reduce the risk of dementia and slow its development.

400g smoked trout fillet

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

100g ricotta cheese or cream cheese

100ml of creme fraiche

Juice of 1 lemon

Large handful of dill

1. Remove the skin from the trout fillets and check there are no bones.

2. Place in a food processor with the mustard, black pepper, cheese, creme fraiche and lemon juice, and process until smooth.

3. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve with dill.

BANANA ICE-CREAM
Dementia sufferers often have stronger cravings for sweet things. Here’s a healthy option for a pudding — the bananas and the yoghurt in this quick-to-make ice cream are good sources of the mineral potassium, which can help to maintain healthy blood pressure.

2 frozen bananas (one per person)

400ml natural yoghurt

1. Freeze two peeled bananas.

2. Once frozen, remove and thaw for 5 mins at room temperature.

3. Put bananas into a blender and pour the yoghurt over the top.

4. Blitz until smoothish — leaving the odd lump.

5. Indulge immediately.

SEVEN WAYS MEMORY LOSS AFFECTS EATING
Memory loss can mean people living with dementia forget to eat or eat too often.

Ability to judge temperature can be affected, so food can burn the lips and mouth if it is served too hot.

A person may not recognise the food in front of them or may try to eat non-food substances thinking they are edible.

Keeping the mouth closed, chewing and swallowing can be difficult.

Inability to prepare or cook food.

Changes in the way food appears to taste or a craving for sweet foods.

Loss of appetite due to depression, medication, constipation and low energy.

Written by Jane Clarke and published by The Daily Mail ~ February 12, 2017.

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