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Archive for October, 2013

When it comes to dying, most of us want to live as long as possible. However, one thing that bothers us as we grow older is memory loss. Aging diminishes cognitive skills in everyone. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease increase in the elderly. Many issues may impact brain function, but diet is a leading cause we can alter. The good news is, eating certain foods makes a difference in how well we will think and remember in old age.

The journal, Neurology, reported on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. In a study of 17,000 men and women with an average age of 64, those who followed the Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop thinking and memory problems. However, the same wasn’t true of those with diabetes.

Epidemiology published a review of twelve research studies. In nine studies, those who followed the Mediterranean diet had better mental function with lower rates of cognitive decline and reduced risks for Alzheimer’s disease.

What is the Mediterranean diet? Unlike other diets that tell you what to eat and what to avoid, the Mediterranean diet is a pattern for eating. Its name originated from the sixteen plus countries in the region of the Mediterranean Sea where certain foods are plentiful. Residents in the area seem less prone to many common diseases that plague Americans.

The Mediterranean plan is mostly a matter of switching certain types food for a different choice. The diet uses generous portions of fruits and vegetables as well as bread, cereals, beans, nuts and seeds. Olive oil is an important part of the diet with limited amounts of saturated fats and trans fats. Those who follow the Mediterranean plan eat very few red meats and consumed dairy products, fish and poultry  in low to moderate amounts.

While some studies found that the Ornish and Pritikin diets, both extremely low in fat, gave similar results, the Mediterranean diet has proven beneficial in improving or maintaining cognitive function.

One thing is certain. There are no definite treatments for dementia. Your best bet is prevention. To keep from losing your mind, reduce the onset of symptoms through adequate physical and mental exercise and eat more foods found in the Mediterranean dietary pattern.

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Sometimes it’s important to get back to basics. My blog relates to nutrition and food events based on current research or newsworthy items. As a dietitian, I tend to believe everyone has heard of the foods we need daily for a healthy diet. Not true. With a plethora of information, people tend to forget the simple. Often advertising or false claims mislead people. How can we eat for optimum health and enjoy food without the hassle? Below is a brief summary of nutrients our bodies need plus those we may eat in access.

  • Calories: Our bodies need energy (fuel). We get that energy only from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. An ounce of fat provides more than twice as many calories as the same amount of carbohydrate or protein (which have about the same). The calories we need depend on age, activity, gender, and other factors. Healthy adult women of appropriate weight need about 2,000 calories a day. Men and very active women need more. In addition to calories, the body requires the following.
  • Vitamins: These nutrients help convert carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy, carry out body functions within the cells, and form bones, teeth, and tissue.
  • Minerals: Mineral elements help regulate enzymes, build body and bone tissue, and keep nerves and muscles healthy.
  • Water and Fiber: Drink ample fluids (six to eight glasses per day), especially water, and eat foods high in fiber to help eliminate waste from the body.

Sometimes our diets have too much or not enough of varied nutrients. While excess of some nutrients may be okay, others can harm health. Consider the following as you eat.

  • Sugar (carbohydrate): Many, if not most, Americans have a sweet tooth. A little is okay as long as you don’t over do it. Foods high in sugar, especially sweetened beverages, are responsible for much of the obesity in society. Sugar may also increase the risk for dental decay, especially in children.
  • Fats: The body needs fat for body fuel and other functions. Fat in the diet helps keep us from getting hungry as quickly. Some types of fats are good while others can increase risks of health problems. Saturated fats, found mostly in meats, may increase risks for heart disease. To consume less of these fats, trim fat from meats, remove skin from chicken, and switch to low-fat milk and milk products. Unsaturated fats, found in plant sources, may help decrease heart problems. Olive oil, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid, is considered a healthier source of unsaturated fats. Use more vegetable oils in cooking (see post for 8/20/2013) and limit the use of trans fats.
  • Meats and Protein Foods (protein, fat, vitamins, minerals): About four ounces daily of a protein food is adequate. Legumes and nuts are healthy sources. For a healthier diet, choose skinless chicken and fish instead of red meat. While controversy lingers over the health value of eggs, they are excellent sources of protein and other nutrients.
  • Milk and milk products (carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals): Consume the equivalent of two to three servings a day. Milk, a natural source of calcium and other minerals and vitamins, is fortified with Vitamin D. Choose low-fat options for a healthier diet.
  • Breads, Cereals, Pasta (carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, fiber): Choose five to six servings a day with at least half from whole grain sources.
  • Fruits and Vegetables (vitamins): While Americans may get too many calories from carbohydrates and fats, most fail to eat enough fruits and vegetables. A healthful diet will include a variety of four to five vegetables and three to four fruits each day. Choose from fresh, frozen, or canned sources. Consider the following selections and others.
    • Fruits: apples, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, dates, figs, grapes, grapefruit, mangos, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, pineapple, strawberries.
    • Vegetables: asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, eggplant, green beans, green peas, kale, legumes (field peas/beans), mustard greens, okra, potatoes, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips/turnip greens, pumpkin, zucchini. Choose one serving of a deep green or deep yellow fruit/vegetable at least three to four times per week.
  • Salt (the minerals sodium and chloride): Controversy continues about the amount of salt (actually the sodium) needed by healthy people. While the body needs salt, too much can damage health, especially for those with high blood pressure. With the increased consumption of prepared foods, snacks, and meals eaten away from home, it’s safe to say most American exceed the amount needed. To cut back on the amount in the diet, check sodium content of foods and avoid using extra salt at the table.

Sometimes we make eating the right foods way to difficult. Make your choices based on guidelines for a healthier diet without a lot of hassle.

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