SAN FRANCISCO — The right diet can help stave off dementia, according to new collaborative research. Even better, the report even tells us which foods we should include with breakfast, lunch, and dinner to best support the brain. The new study concludes that diets emphasizing plants, such as the Mediterranean diet or traditional diets seen in China, Japan, and India, appear to reduce Alzheimer’s disease risk, especially when compared to a fattier, more processed Western diet.

In this article we’ll share the important findings of this study, and include a table of the suggested foods (and their anti-Alzheimer’s properties) to help ward off dementia. You can find this at the bottom of the post.

The global prevalence of Alzheimer’s is alarming. Current estimates indicate that approximately 32 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s, and a staggering 315 million showing preclinical signs. These numbers represent 22% of individuals aged 50 or older, marking Alzheimer’s as a major health challenge worldwide.

It’s been documented in the past that rates of Alzheimer’s, considered the most common form of dementia, tend to increase in nations as they make the nutritional transition to the Western diet. Now, this new project identifies dementia risk factors such as higher consumption of saturated fats, meat (especially red meat like hamburgers and barbeque), processed meat (hot dogs), and ultra-processed foods high in both sugar and refined grains.

Key takeaways:

  • Healthy Eating Patterns: A healthful diet is crucial, with evidence suggesting it can halve the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Rice-Based Diets: Lower risk associated with rice-based diets, compared to high-fat and high-energy diets.
  • Meat Consumption: Strong correlation between meat consumption and increased Alzheimer’s disease risk.
  • Fish and Omega-3s: Inversely related to Alzheimer’s disease, likely due to their beneficial fatty acids.
  • Key Nutrients: High intake of folate, vitamins E and C, and fish consumption are associated with reduced Alzheimer’s risk.
  • Scroll down to bottom for a list of additional foods that can help prevent dementia

Best diets to prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Studies show that adherence to a nutritious diet can even halve the risk of developing the disease. Key elements of such a diet include high intakes of folate, vitamins E and C, and fish, all linked to reduced Alzheimer’s risk. Researchers say the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets, as well as rice-based diets are great examples of regimens inversely associated with dementia risk. These diets are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and healthy fats, offering significant protective effects on brain health.

These findings illustrate why certain foods increase or reduce the risk of dementia. For instance, eating meat was found to increase one’s risk of dementia the most by increasing risk factors including inflammation, insulin resistance, oxidative stress, saturated fat, advanced glycation end products, and trimethylamine N-oxide.

A look at Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. (Image by Irina Strelnikova on Shutterstock)

Study authors highlight several foods that appear to offer protection against Alzheimer’s, such as green leafy vegetables, colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes (like beans), omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, and nuts. Scroll down for a complete look at anti-dementia foods for your diet.

Ultra-processed foods have long been linked to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, themselves risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Ultra-processed foods usually lack the ingredients seen in whole plant foods that keep dementia away (anti-inflammatory components, antioxidants).

Meanwhile, poverty is another noted driver of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States because ultra-processed foods and meat are cheaper sources of energy than fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and most other nutritious foods.

Being mindful about your food is best for your mind

All in all, this paper disturbingly suggests that by 2038 Alzheimer’s disease rates in the United States may increase by as much as 50 percent in comparison to levels seen in 2018. This calculation was based on comparing trends of obesity in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s disease trends, and that comparison revealed a two-decade lag between obesity rates and Alzheimer’s disease rates. Interestingly, that estimate in particular is quite close to an estimate published by the Alzheimer’s Association in 2018 (an estimated 56% increase). This paper’s prediction indicates that the rising trend of obesity, due to consumption of meat and ultra-processed foods, is the driving force behind dementia.

This study was conducted by William B. Grant of the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center, San Francisco, and Steven M. Blake Nutritional Neuroscience, Maui Memory Clinic, Wailuku, Hawaii.

“Grant and Blake comprehensively review and synthesize the role of dietary factors in Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence from diverse perspectives support that a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and…de-emphasizes meat, especially red meat, saturated fats, and ultra-processed foods is associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Physical inactivity and obesity also contribute to higher risk,” says Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Harvard University, in a media release.

Best foods to prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Food Source Bioactive Components Mechanisms and/or Effects
Blackberries, red grapes Resveratrol Antioxidant, cytoprotective, neuroprotective
Coffee Caffeic acid Memory and learning improvement, free radical reduction, tau protein and AβPP expression reduction, synaptic protein expression increase
Fish, especially cold-water ocean Omega-3, docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3) Membrane function effects, neurotransmitter modulation
Fish, especially cold-water ocean Vitamin D Hormone effects, amyloid production reduction, clearance increase
Fruits, vegetables (yellow, orange, red) Carotenoids, e.g., leutein and zeaxanthin Oxidative stress reduction, antioxidant enzyme increase, neurogenesis
Fruits, vegetables (red, violet, blue) Anthocyanins Oxidative stress reduction, inflammation reduction, tau protein aggregation reduction, neuronal apoptosis reduction
Garlic Allicin, other bioactive compounds Inflammation reduction, oxidation reduction, neuroprotection
Legumes Polyphenols, peptides, saponins, and carotenoids Cell membrane receptor interaction, key enzyme inhibition
Legumes Folate Hcy reduction
Nuts, almond, hazelnut and walnut Phenolic acid, e.g., Caffeic acid Aβ-induced toxicity protection, tau phosphorylation reduction
Nuts, almond, hazelnut and walnut Non-flavonoids, e.g., lignans Aβ-induced neurodegeneration amelioration, oxidative stress protection, anticholinesterase activity, inflammatory signaling pathway inhibition
Nuts, almond, hazelnut and walnut Flavonoids, e.g., quercetin Aβ 1–42-induced cytotoxicity, protein oxidation, lipid peroxidation and apoptosis attenuation
Olive oil Oleuropein, Oleocanthal Antioxidant, nerve cell protection, Aβ level reduction, Aβ aggregation prevention, glutaminyl cyclase expression reduction, inflammation reduction, Aβ aggregation reduction, Aβ clearance modulation
Peppers Capsaicin Tau deposition, apoptosis, and synaptic dysfunction attenuation
Soy products Genistein Oxidative stress reduction, mitochondrial protection, apoptosis reduction, inflammation amelioration, Aβ synthesis reduction, senile plaque formation reduction
Spices Cinnamon, ginger, pepper, saffron Inflammation suppression, antioxidant, acetylcholinesterase and Aβ aggregation inhibition
Turmeric, e.g., curry power Curcumin Aβ aggregation prevention, neuron protection, synaptic function improvement
Vegetables, cruciferous Isothiocyanates Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, acetylcholinesterase activity suppression
Vegetables, green leafy Folate, lutein, phylloquinone Hcy reduction, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory
Whole grains Phenolic acids Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial

Adds Dr. Paul Marik, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance: “Apart from the particular type of diet they demonstrate that the consumption of red meat, insulin resistance, obesity, reactive oxygen species, and oxidative stress, phytochemicals and homocysteine amongst other factors interact with neuroinflammation and play a major role in the aetiology of Alzheimer’s. This treatise provides an excellent overview of modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.