Awareness of Alzheimer’s disease has increased dramatically thanks to events like the recent Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Galveston and upcoming walks in Sugar Land on Oct. 29 and at the University of Houston on Nov. 5. Increased awareness of the devastating disease, which affects more than 5 million Americans, has spurred interest in treatment and prevention.
As with many diseases, nutrition is believed to play a part in managing some of the symptoms and slowing the development of others. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there is no special diet recommended for brain health, but instead the emphasis is on following the guidelines for healthy eating.
Alice Williams, director of Libbie’s Place, a weekday program for Galveston County seniors, agrees.
“Eating for a healthy brain is basically the same as for a healthy heart,” she said. “Limiting saturated fats, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and using less salt are all part of a standard healthy diet, and also better for your brain.”
Colorful, nutrient-dense salads are a good brain-booster for everyone. The advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine highlights recipes with a mix of vegetables, noting that, “The pigments that give fruits and vegetables their bright colors represent a variety of protective compounds, which shield your memory and your brain.”
Several of the recipes recommended by the Physicians Committee include grapes, based on research at the University of Cincinnati finding that grape juice consumption boosts short-term memory and learning ability. They also suggest replacing saturated fats with healthier ones, such as in avocados.
“For our lunches, we always start off with a salad,” Williams said. Many of the salads served at Libbie’s Place incorporate fresh vegetables from the on-site gardens tended by program participants and volunteers.
“We grow tomatoes, lettuce, winter squash and other salad vegetables,” Williams said. “We just planted a new crop of radishes, and they’ll go into our salads. Having our healthy choices look appealing is very important.”
For those with Alzheimer’s disease, Williams tries to balance healthy choices with familiarity.
“At some point, the goal becomes just to get them to eat, and comfort food and familiar food is a big part of that. Of course, we still serve fruits and vegetables, but it may mean switching from raw to canned because it’s softer and easier to eat.”
Modifying favorite foods to make them a healthy choice won’t ruin their popularity.
“Everyone at Libbie’s Place enjoys the one day a month when we serve deli-style sandwiches,” Williams said. “We use whole wheat bread and fresh deli ham and turkey, along with lettuce and tomatoes. We custom-make each sandwich so everyone gets exactly what they like, and it’s surprising how much they all enjoy a sandwich. People discount sandwiches as not being a very healthy lunch, but they can be.”
Since the human brain is more than 70 percent water, drinking plenty of water is important for brain health.
“I think of staying hydrated as a big part of good nutrition,” Williams said.