Learning How to Use Food to Fight Alzheimer’s Disease
Shown (L–R) are Nadja Meireles, Nancy Emerson Lombardo and CC Donelan, all of Brain Health & Wellness Center–Acton
story & photos by Teri Borseti, Bulletin Contributing WriterThe bounty of fresh food set out on the banquet table at the Bellingham Senior Center was artistically arranged and suggested good health. The setting was part of a special educational event on the subject of how food affects Alzheimer’s disease.
Once a year the Alzheimer’s Association of South Worcester partners with other agencies to host an Alzheimer’s-related workshop. This year guest speaker was Dr. Nancy Emerson Lombardo of Brain Health and Wellness Center of Acton, who heads up the Memory Preservation Program. Other organizations that participated in the event included Atria Draper Place Assisted Living in Hopedale, St. Camillus Adult Day Health Center in Whitinsville, and Lanessa Extended Care and Webster Manor both of Webster.
More than two dozen locals attended the event, which began with trays of healthful snacks including fruit, cheese, and blueberry smoothies. Lombardo began her talk by saying that “food is medicine,” and went on to educate the group about the different ways that lifestyle can affect your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. “We use food with an emphasis on improving the body, but eating the right way can also impact your brain and how it functions,” Lombardo said.
She went on to say that Americans today eat 27 times more sugar than they did 100 years ago. “There is sugar in just about everything, and excess sugar can be toxic. Research has shown that too much sugar can actually shrink the hippocampus part of your brain.”
Lombardo then discussed refined carbohydrates—carbs— and how they turn into sugar. She explained that excess sugar directly inflames the brain, increases the amount of the A-beta problem protein (implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive problems), creates pre-diabetes and raises cholesterol.
She informed the group about why it’s important to include a variety of antioxidants, increase intake of omega 3s, reduce bad cholesterol, and eat more plant-based foods. There’s a direct connection between what our diet consists of and how our brain functions. “Even in the early ’90s we didn’t know as much about the Alzheimer’s/food connection as we do now. Many studies have taught us that the right foods, along with exercise, can actually stave off symptoms of what many people think of as dementia or senility. Healthy food can slow the progression of the disease,” Lombardo said.
Julie McMurray, regional manager of the Alzheimer’s Association, said that a function of her organization is to enhance care and support for patients as well as their caregivers and to educate people about good brain health. “We provide a great many services, and they’re all free of change. We even have a 24/7 helpline that anyone can call with a question about Alzheimer’s (800-272-3900).The organization is also the number-one funder of research nationwide.
Guests were introduced to the Mediterranean diet, which is characterized especially by a high consumption of vegetables and olive oil and moderate consumption of protein, and thought to confer health benefits—researchers found that people who eat a Mediterranean diet also have lower odds of having a heart attack—as an option. Everyone was encouraged to take inventory of their pantries. Rita Tetrault, who spends a lot of time at the senior center, said she came to get good diet information from professionals.
Attendees were given numerous pamphlets and hand-outs, including the newest food pyramid info and tips about vitamins and spices we can benefit from. Here, for example, is a short list of best foods to promote good brain health:
- Veggies—broccoli, cauliflower, beets, peppers, eggplant, cabbage
- Beans and seeds such as lentils and flax
- Refined sugar substitutes, including coconut sugar and Truvia® (stevia)
- Whole grain flour
- Fruit—natural sugar
Katie Connors’ Blueberry SmoothieCombine the following ingredients in a blender:
2 large spoonfuls of plain Greek yogurt
2 large spoonfuls of fresh blueberries
A dash of apple juice
A dash of cinnamon
Once blended, this is a healthful and delicious beverage.