Researchers are finding connections between eating certain foods and an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Josh Axe explains how avoiding these 3 foods can help lower your risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia, and how adding other foods into your diet will protect your brain and help prevent these devastating diseases. Now you can find ways to strengthen your body and mind every time you sit down to eat.
Did you know that every 66 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease? Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the country. (1) While there is no cure yet for the disease, we do know what you eat matters and that certain foods can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s important to know what these foods are and limit or avoid them completely. Luckily, we also know some foods that can help reduce your risk of brain disease. Make sure to add plenty of these foods to help keep your brain and body strong.
A new study shows that a Western-style diet heavy on meat, sweets and high-fat foods is linked to higher levels of Alzheimer’s. (2) The study found that amongst nine other countries, including Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Mongolia, individuals in the U.S. have a 4 percent increased chance of developing Alzheimer’s. In fact, when Japan’s traditional diet shifted more towards its Western counterpart, Alzheimer’s rates soared (along with waistlines) from 1 percent in 1985 to 7 percent in 2008.
Clearly, certain foods raise the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, while other foods offer natural treatment options. What you eat (and don’t eat) matters. Let’s take a closer look.
3 Foods That Raise Your Alzheimer’s Risk
1. Red Meat
While I’m a fan of red meat, too much of a good thing might increase your chances of Alzheimer’s. (3) (And, of course, eating low-quality red meat is a big no-no.) Red meat is an iron-rich food. And though your body needs enough iron to avoid anemia, chronic fatigue and muscle weakness, too much iron can actually speed up damage created from too many free radicals unleashed in our bodies. As the iron builds up in the brain, it does so in an area known as “gray matter,” a part of the brain that shows one of the first signs of degeneration as we age. Too much iron in that area seems to accelerate the process even more.
You don’t have to say goodbye to hamburgers and steaks entirely. Instead, be mindful of how much red meat you’re eating each week and choose the best quality, grass-fed beef that is available.
2. Refined Carbohydrates & Sugars
If you need another reason to stay away from starchy pasta and breads, here’s one: Diets high in carbohydrates and sugar can raise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2012 study found that people 70 years or older who ate a diet heavy in carbohydrates (i.e. refined sugar) were almost four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their healthier eating counterparts. That spike in Alzheimer’s is far beyond the normal age-related issues you’d expect to see in regards to memory and thinking. (4) Today, we know sugar’s role goes far beyond heart disease and extra pounds and greatly impacts the brain, too.
The more our body ignores insulin, the more our pancreas produces. These high levels of insulin might actually damage blood vessels in the brain, leading to issues with memory. In fact, in Alzheimer’s patients, parts of the brain become resistant to insulin—and while researchers aren’t sure why, there seems to be a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. (5)
3. High-AGE Foods
No, not old foods! “AGEs” stands for advanced glycation end products, or chemicals that are found both naturally in our bodies and in some foods. Foods high in AGEs include red meat, cheese, processed foods and animal fat. Scientists previously linked foods high in AGEs to diabetes and poor cardiovascular health. Now it seems they might play a role in a declining brain as well.
A 2014 study first examined the role of AGE in mice. After feeding the creatures three different types of diets—one low in AGEs, one high in AGEs and a “normal” diet—those mice who were eating the least amount of AGEs showed improved cognitive function. (6)
Next, the researchers put their theory to the test with humans. They studied the diets of 90 healthy people 60 years old or older. Those with high-AGE diets fared the worst, showing a decline over the course of the nine-month study.
It’s important to note that all foods contain some level of AGEs. But try to stay away from those with the highest amounts. And because AGE production actually increases with heat, the way you cook your meat matters when it comes to avoiding AGEs and how foods raise your Alzheimer’s risk.
Grilling and frying meats speeds up AGE production much more than other methods of cooking. For example, a serving of raw chicken has an AGE level of 800; fried chicken has a level of 8,000. (7) Skip the deep fryer and high-heat grill and opt instead for stewing, poaching, braising or using a grill pan on the stove.
The #1 Alzheimer’s-Fueling Food
If I had to warn you about the top food to stay away from when it comes to foods that raise Alzheimer’s risk, it would be this: a conventional steak coated with store-bought marinade, charred on the grill.
This one popular food features all of the components of foods that raise Alzheimer’s risk: factory-farmed red meat with skyrocketing levels of AGEs due to grilling on high heat. Beyond that, most store-bought marinades are loaded with added sugars and sweeteners, another class of foods that raise Alzheimer’s risk. When you do grill an occasional steak, choose grass-fed and organic meat, marinate it in a vinegar and herb base and cook it slowly on low heat to reduce AGE levels.
Reducing Your Alzheimer’s Risk: What to Eat
There are lots of foods that you should be eating that can actually help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia and keep your entire body healthy. I love the Mediterranean diet!
Emphasizing fresh fruits and veggies, wild-caught seafood, poultry, nuts, olive oil and dairy in moderation—with red meat enjoyed on special occasions or just once a week—the Mediterranean diet has been touted as one of the best ways to decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s through nutrition. (8,9)
Because the Mediterranean diet is heavy on brain foods like avocados, leafy greens and olive oil, it makes sense that following the diet would keep the brain in tip-top shape. In fact, all of my five best healthy fats for your body are part of the Mediterranean diet, including omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in fish like wild-caught salmon and play a huge role in brain health, slowing down the aging process.
- Researchers have found links between diet and the the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia
- 3 foods to avoid are low quality-red meat, refined sugars and carbohydrates and foods high in AGE
- Foods to include are avocados, leafy greens, olive oil and foods high in omega-3 such as wild salmon.
Now you know certain foods raise your Alzheimer’s risk and others may actually keep you healthier, so, which will you choose?
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