Nutrition for Alzheimer's Disease
Researchers have noted a link between our dietary habits and memory loss and other cognitive deficits. High saturated fat and dietary cholesterol intake can have a negative impact on many aspects of human health, and are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Research has also indicated a connection between low intakes of vitamin A and vitamin C and severity of Alzheimer's.
Currently, there are several theories as to the cause of Alzheimer's disease; some suggest oxidative stress, which refers to a class of metabolic responses of cells in the body that produce highly toxic 'free radicals.' Free radicals can inflict a wide variety of injuries upon the brain. A vitamin and mineral regimen may have a positive impact on preventing free radical production, and a diet high in antioxidants may prevent 'oxidative stress.' Research has also indicated that a variety of vitamins may assist with the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's. Current recommendations include vitamins A, E, C, and D, B-vitamins, and minerals such as selenium, chromium, and zinc, consumed on a daily basis. Consult a primary care physician for individual recommendations specific to your needs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranked the following foods among the highest in antioxidant content. The number after each food denotes its total antioxidant capacity (TAC). Foods with TACs of 2,000 or higher are considered high in antioxidants.
Fruits - one-cup serving
- Dried Plums: 14,582
- Cultivated blueberries: 9,019
- Blackberries: 7,701
- Sweet cherries: 4,873
Vegetables - one-cup serving, cooked
- Artichoke hearts: 7,904
- Red cabbage: 4,718
- Russet potato: 4,649
Nuts - one-ounce serving
- Pecans: 5,095
- Walnuts: 3,846
- Hazelnuts: 2,739
Malnutrition and weight maintenance are also often health concerns for persons with Alzheimer's disease. Poor nutrition can result in physical weakness, increasing the likelihood of falls and fractures. It can also reduce the efficiency of the immune system, making it less able to fight off disease and heal wounds. Malnutrition and dehydration may increase confusion and stress and reduce one's ability to cope with the disease. In general, eating a well-balanced diet is beneficial for everyone, but this is especially true for people with Alzheimer's disease. With proper dietary intake, the body can work more efficiently, resulting in increased energy and improve the ability of medications to work properly.
Make a plan for getting proper nutrition:
- Eat smaller meals more frequently. Eating five to six times a day may be tolerated more easily than eating the same amount of food in three meals
- Take a daily vitamin/mineral supplement
- Liquid diet supplements may be helpful
Additional information that may assist with achieving dietary intake that promotes balance and moderation, and that may be beneficial for persons with Alzheimer's disease, includes:
- Eat a variety of foods from each food category
- Maintain your weight through a proper balance of physical activity and dietary intake
- Choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol
- Try to limit sugars
- Moderate use of salt
- Drink water throughout the day
- Consume alcoholic beverages in moderation (consult your physician)
Complications of constipation may be associated with the disease and its progression and/or with an aging body. Through a balanced diet containing a variety of foods, constipation can be avoided. Remember to eat foods naturally high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains) while also drinking plenty of fluids and continuing or beginning a regular physical activity regimen to prevent constipation.
Mealtime may become a challenge for many reasons, and for some persons with Alzheimer's the dining environment needs to be considered. Plan to minimize any distractions during meals, stay focused on the activity of eating and drinking, slow down the eating process, and chew foods thoroughly.
Consult with a primary care physician before making changes to current dietary intake. The following low-fat recipe can be a part of a healthy diet by providing a good source of antioxidants and fiber.
- 1 TBS Canola oil or olive oil
- 10 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
- 1 1/2 TBS chili powder
- 1 1/2 TBS cumin
- 2 cans diced tomatoes, no salt added
- 1 can black, kidney or red beans, no salt added, rinsed
- 1 cup whole kernel corn, frozen
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (add to taste)
- In medium saucepan, sauté chicken in oil over medium heat until white.
- Stir in chili powder and cumin to coat chicken.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients; heat thoroughly.