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 Canadian Brain Health Diet Shows Promise in Reducing Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Preliminary research by Toronto-based scientists offers further encouragement to the growing field of study that shows “brain-friendly” diets for people approaching middle age or well into their senior citizen years can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Called the Canadian Brain Health Food Guide, the creation seeks to influence individuals and institutions to choose smarter foods like beans, whole grains, and nuts over prepackaged foods lacking in the nutrients scientists say are needed to protect brain cells and stem disease.

Preliminary results for the Canadian entry into the brain-friendly field (joining the well-known Mediterranean Diet, among others) produced a 36 percent reduction in the risk of developing AD.

Carol Greenwood, a professor of nutrition at the University of Toronto and a leader in creating the Canadian brain health guide, tells Provider that her group of researchers wanted to push the concepts of the Mediterranean Diet further to make it more practical for Western followers. Some foods in the Mediterranean Diet may not be as available to those not living in major metropolitan areas, like certain plants and oils, and older individuals may not be as accepting of giving up their own food choices and instead are directed to limit rather than abstain from things like mashed potatoes, for instance.

“Our primary incentive is that while there has been a fair amount of epidemiological study in terms of relationships between nutrition and Alzheimer’s prevention, many of those studies were modeling the Mediterranean Diet, so much so that the Mediterranean Diet was starting to become the Holy Grail,” she says.

In examining the Mediterranean guidelines and their push for more plant-based consumption, Greenwood says her group developed the same style of a brain-friendly diet but in a narrower and more culturally accessible way for those living in places like Canada and the United States.

“The modeling we did was to give more information on foods you should be avoiding and how much of that you can tolerate in your diet. I think it is kind of like getting the ying and yang working in a global way,” she says. The basics on which foods to avoid most include red and processed meats, butter, hard margarine, cream, salty snacks, and canned soup, among a longer list.

In a paper Greenwood helped write for the Canadian College of Health Leaders, she said the importance for people in their 50s to well into their 70s to live healthier was extremely important in possibly staving off AD and dementia.

“Between 30 percent to 50 percent of cases of AD worldwide may be attributed to seven modifiable, predominantly vascular and/or lifestyle-associated risk factors—diabetes, midlife hypertension, mid-life obesity, physical inactivity, depression, smoking, and low education attainment,” the paper said.

In general, Greenwood argues that a lot of lifestyle risk factors, like obesity and high blood pressure, must be addressed around the time people think of retirement or before then to help prevent AD. However, a study published in Spain even said that people in their mid-70s who altered their diets to a more brain-friendly pattern saw cognitive benefits.

For skilled nursing care centers and assisted living communities, Greenwood says, though difficult because of cost considerations, there are ways to include items like whole-grain pastas and sweet potatoes into diets to improve overall health and possibly limit the chance of getting AD.

“There are some initiatives in Canada, like rooftop gardening, where providers grow produce in their facility. There are things one can do to combine fresh with cost savings, but it requires tremendous effort,” she says.

For more information on the Canadian Brain Health Food Guide, access this site.

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