To Help Ward Off Alzheimer’s, Think Before You Eat

Judith Graham wrote . . . . . .

Diets designed to boost brain health, targeted largely at older adults, are a new, noteworthy development in the field of nutrition.

The latest version is the Canadian Brain Health Food Guide, created by scientists in Toronto. Another, the MIND (Mediterranean DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, comes from experts at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Both diets draw from a growing body of research suggesting that certain nutrients — mostly found in plant-based foods, whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetable oils and fish — help protect cells in the brain while fighting harmful inflammation and oxidation.


Everyone who gets to middle age should have a doctor check their B12 levels.

— Martha Clare Morris, originator of the MIND diet


Lowering the Risk of Alzheimer’s

Both have yielded preliminary, promising results in observational studies. The Canadian version — similar to the Mediterranean diet but adapted to Western eating habits — is associated with a 36 percent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The MIND diet — a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) — lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s by 53 percent.

Researchers responsible for both regimens will study them further in rigorous clinical trials being launched this year.

Still, the diets differ in several respects, reflecting varying interpretations of research regarding nutrition’s impact on the aging brain.

A few examples: The MIND diet recommends two servings of vegetables every day; the Canadian diet recommends five. The Canadian diet suggests that fish or seafood be eaten three times a week; the MIND diet says once is enough.

The MIND diet calls for at least three servings of whole grains a day; the Canadian diet doesn’t make a specific recommendation. The Canadian diet calls for four servings of fruit each day; the MIND diet says that five half-cup portions of berries a week is all that is needed.

We asked Carol Greenwood, a professor of nutrition at the University of Toronto and a key force behind the Canadian diet, and Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center and originator of the MIND diet, to elaborate on research findings about nutrition and aging and their implications for older adults.

Nutrition and the Brain

It’s not yet well understood precisely how nutrition affects the brains of older adults. Most studies done to date have been in animals or younger adults.

What is clear: A poor diet can increase the risk of developing hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, which in turn can end up compromising an individual’s cognitive function. The corollary: A good diet that reduces the risk of chronic illness is beneficial to the brain.

Also, what people eat appears to have an effect on brain cells and how they function.

“I don’t think we know enough yet to say that nutrients in themselves support neurogenesis (the growth of neurons) and synaptogenesis (the growth of neural connections),” Greenwood said. “But pathways that are needed for these processes can be supported or impaired by someone’s nutritional status.”

Essential Nutrients

“Several nutrients have been shown to have biological mechanisms related to neuropathology in the brain,” Morris said.

On that list is Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant found in oils, nuts, seeds, whole grains and leafy green vegetables, which is associated with slower cognitive decline, a lower risk of dementia, and reduced accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins — a key culprit in Alzheimer’s disease.

“The brain is a site of great metabolic activity,” Morris said. “It uses an enormous amount of energy and in doing so generates a high level of free radical molecules, which are unstable and destructive. Vitamin E snatches up those free radicals and protects the brain from injury.”

Also on her list is vitamin B12 — found in animal products such as meat, eggs, cheese and fish — and vitamin B9 (folate), found in green leafy vegetables, grains, nuts and beans.

Because aging affects stomach acids that facilitate the absorption of B12, “everyone who gets to middle age should have a doctor check their B12 levels,” Morris said. A deficiency of this vitamin can lead to confusion and memory problems, while folate deficiency is associated with cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nuts oils, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are highly concentrated in the brain, where they are incorporated in cell membranes and play a role in the transmission of signals between cells.

“A primary focus has to be maintaining healthy” blood vessels in the brain, Greenwood said. “So, heart health recommendations are similar in many ways to brain health recommendations, with this exception: The brain has higher levels of Omega-3s than any other tissue in the body, making adequate levels even more essential.”

Other studies point to calcium, zinc and vitamins A, C and D as having a positive impact on the brain, though findings are sometimes inconsistent.

Foods to Avoid

For the most part, the Canadian and MIND diets concur on foods to be avoided or limited to once-a-week servings, especially saturated fats found in pastries, sweets, butter, red meat and fried and processed foods.

As for dairy products, “there’s no evidence one way or another. If you like your yogurt, keep eating it,” Morris said. Greenwood adds a caveat: Make sure you consume low-fat dairy products as opposed to whole-fat versions.

Other Helpful Diets

Randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet have a positive impact on various aspects of cognition, although neither was created specifically for that purpose.

“At the end of the day, our [Canadian] diet, the MIND diet, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are not that different; they’re all likely to be helpful,” Greenwood said.

The Pattern Counts

Studies promoting the cognitive benefits of drinking tea or eating blueberries have garnered headlines recently. But a focus on individual foods is misguided, both experts suggested. What matters instead is dietary patterns and how components of various foods interact to promote brain health.

The bottom line: Concentrate on eating an assortment of foods that are good for you. “As long as people are eating a healthful diet, they shouldn’t have to worry about individual nutrients,” Greenwood said.

Source: Next Avenue


Today’s Comic

Proof that Magnesium Could Prevent Fractures

Magnesium could hold the key to preventing one of the most preventable causes of disability in middle-aged to elderly people, according to new research led by academics at the Universities of Bristol and Eastern Finland.

Bone fractures are one of the leading causes of disability and ill health especially among the ageing population and this increases the burden on the health care system. It is well-known that calcium and vitamin D play an important role in bone health. Magnesium is an essential nutrient and is an important component of the bone. Though there have been suggestions that magnesium may have a beneficial effect on bone health, no study has been able to show its effect on bone fractures.

Researchers at the Universities of Bristol and Eastern Finland followed 2,245 middle-aged men over a 20-year period. They found that men with lower blood levels of magnesium had an increased risk of fractures, particularly fractures of the hip. The risk of having a fracture was reduced by 44 per cent in men with higher blood levels of magnesium. None of the 22 men who had very high magnesium levels (> 2.3 mg/dl) in the study population experienced a fracture during the follow-up period. In the same study, dietary magnesium intake was not found to be linked with fractures. A finding that has been consistently demonstrated in several previous studies.

Dr Setor Kunutsor, Research Fellow from the University of Bristol’s Musculoskeletal Research Unit and lead researcher, said: “The findings do suggest that avoiding low serum concentrations of magnesium may be a promising though unproven strategy for risk prevention of fractures.”

Although blood levels of magnesium depend on magnesium intake from food and water, this may not be the case for the elderly, people with certain bowel disorders, and those on certain medications. For such people, increasing the intake of foods rich in magnesium may not necessarily increase blood magnesium levels. Treating the underlying conditions and magnesium supplementation may be another way of avoiding low blood levels of magnesium.

These new findings may have public health implications as low blood levels of magnesium are very common in the population. This is especially among middle-aged to elderly individuals who are also prone to fractures. Majority of these individuals do not experience any symptoms. Since blood magnesium is not measured routinely in the hospital, individuals with low levels of magnesium are very difficult to identify. These findings could help trigger initiatives to include blood magnesium screening in routine blood panels, especially for the elderly.

Professor Jari Laukkanen from the University of Eastern Finland and principal investigator, said: “The overall evidence suggests that increasing serum magnesium concentrations may protect against the future risk of fractures; however, well-designed magnesium supplementation trials are needed to investigate these potential therapeutic implications.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Cooking Fats and Oils


Enlarge image . . . . .

All cooking fats and oils are made up of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids in different proportions.

Generally, oils and fats with a high proportion of saturated fat are less healthy than those with higher poly and mono unsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol, omega-3 polyunsaturates may help protect against heart disease and omega-6 fatty acids may help with growth and brain function.

Monounsaturated fats can also help lower cholesterol if they replace saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats may also help decrease the risk of breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis pain.

Read more . . . . .


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Why lard’s healthier than you think . . . . .

Are the Various Types of Oatmeal Nutritionally the Same?

Oats gain part of their distinctive flavor from the roasting process that they undergo after being harvested and cleaned. Although oats are then hulled, this process does not strip away their bran and their germ allowing them to retain a concentrated source of their fiber and nutrients. Different types of processing are then used to produce the various types of oat products, which are generally used to make breakfast cereals, baked goods and stuffings:

  • Oat groats: unflattened kernels that are good for using as a breakfast cereal or for stuffing
  • Steel-cut oats: featuring a dense and chewy texture, they are produced by running the grain through steel blades that thinly slices them.
  • Old-fashioned oats: have a flatter shape that is the result of their being steamed and then rolled.
  • Quick-cooking oats: processed like old-fashioned oats, except they are cut finely before rolling
  • Instant oatmeal: produced by partially cooking the grains and then rolling them very thin. Oftentimes, sugar, salt and other ingredients are added to make the finished product.
  • Oat bran: the outer layer of the grain that resides under the hull. While oat bran is found in rolled oats and steel-cut oats, it may also be purchased as a separate product that can be added to recipes or cooked to make a hot cereal.
  • Oat flour: used in baking, it is oftentimes combined with wheat or other gluten-containing flours when making leavened bread.

The different types of oatmeal are not at all the same in terms of nutrition. The very outermost portion of the oat (called the hull) is always removed before the oat is eaten. However, once the hull has been removed, there are several further processing steps that can be taken. Because these additional processing steps almost always serve to lower the nutritional value of the oats, I recommend the least number of additional processing steps to give yourself the best nourishment possible from your oats. The least processed forms for oats are oat groats and steel-cut oats. Oat groats consist of the hulled but unflattened and unchopped oat kernels. Steel-cut oats are the same as oat groats, except for being chopped with steel blades. Because they are the least processed, these two forms of oats are also the most nutritious.

Old-fashioned oats are chopped, steamed, and rolled to give them their flatter shape. Because they are more processed, they are less nourishing than oat groats or steel-cut oats. However, they are still better sources of nourishment than most quick-cooking oats or instant oatmeals. Quick and instant oatmeal usually have their oat bran—the layer of the grain that’s just beneath the hull—removed. Many vitamins and much of the oat’s fiber are contained within the bran, and so its removal is particularly problematic when it comes to nutritional value. Oat groats, steel-cut oats, and, to a slightly lesser extent, old-fashioned or rolled oats would be your best choices here, with quick and instant oatmeal usually being less nourishing due to further processing and the removal of their bran.

Source: The World’s Healthiest Foods


Steel-cut oats Old-fashioned (rolled) oats Quick oats
Description Also called Irish or Scotch oats, these are cut, not rolled. They look like chopped-up rice, take the longest to cook, and have a slightly chewy consistency. Sometimes called rolled oats, these look like flat little ovals. When processing these oats, the kernels are steamed first, and then rolled to flatten them. They take longer to cook than quick oats but are quicker than steel-cut oats. Also called instant oats, these oats are precooked, dried, and then rolled. They cook in a few minutes when added to hot water and have a mushy texture.
Typical Serving Size 1/4 cup dry 1/2 cup dry 1/2 cup dry
Calories 170 190 150
Total Fat 3 g 3.5 g 3 g
Saturated Fat 0.5 g 0.5 g 0.5 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0 mg 0 mg
Sodium 0 mg 0 mg 0 mg
Carbs 29 g 32 g 27 g
Fiber 5 g 5 g 4 g
Sugars 0 g 1 g 1 g
Protein 7 g 7 g 5 g
Calcium 2% 2% 0%
Iron 10% 15% 10%

Surprised? It looks like they’re pretty similar, but one thing that sets them apart is how they compare on the glycemic index. The less-processed steel-cut oats have a much lower glycemic load than higher-processed quick oats. Low-GI foods slow down the rate that glucose (sugar) gets introduced into your body, and in contrast, high-GI foods cause a spike in your blood sugar as well as insulin, causing you to crave more sugary foods when your glucose levels drop. The best option then are the steel-cut oats, with rolled oats a great second choice. They’ll keep you feeling fuller longer, which will keep your energy levels up and help you lose weight.

Source: Popsugar


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Oats . . . . .

10 Nutritional Blunders Most of Us Make

Cara Rosenbloom wrote . . . . . .

Even when you try your best to eat well, it’s difficult to know everything about nutrition. I often talk with clients who believe they are making good choices and don’t realize that little oversights stand in their way of optimal health. Here’s a top 10 list of common but easy-to-repair nutrition mistakes.

You add whole flaxseeds to your breakfast

Flaxseeds are filled with omega-3 fats, fibre and lignans (antioxidants), which all benefit heart health. But whole flaxseeds may pass through the intestines undigested, which means you’ll miss out on the health benefits inside the seed. Buy ground flax seeds instead, or put them in a coffee or spice grinder.

You blend a nutritious smoothie, but it’s a calorie bomb

It’s easy to toss a combination of superfoods into a blender. Blueberries, cashew butter, chia, kale, bananas and coconut milk sound like a dreamy breakfast elixir, but these concoctions can quickly become calorie bombs. Keep smoothies in the 300-calorie range by serving smaller portions (about 8-12 ounces), using more vegetables than fruit, and by going easy on the high-calorie nuts and seeds.

You take your supplements with coffee

Caffeine from coffee can hinder your body’s ability to absorb some of the vitamins and minerals in your supplements, including calcium, iron, B-vitamins and vitamin D. And it’s not just coffee – beverages such as tea and cola contain caffeine, too. Enjoy your coffee about an hour before taking your supplements, and swallow pills with water instead.

You use regular canned beans for your meatless meals

Beans are an amazing source of fibre and protein, but canned varieties may have close to 1,000 mg of sodium per 250 ml (one cup) — that’s two-thirds of what you need in an entire day! Look for cans that say “no salt added” or “low-sodium.” If you can’t find them, drain and rinse your canned beans, which will eliminate about 40 per cent of the sodium.

To cut back on sugar, you cut out fruit

The top source of sugar in the American diet is sweetened beverages, not fruit. Sugary soft drinks have no beneficial nutrients, while fruit has fibre, vitamins and protective antioxidants. Plus, we don’t tend to overeat fruit, but do tend to drink too much soda. Consider how much easier it is to down a 600-ml (20-ounce) soda, as opposed to eating six bananas at one time. Both pack 16 teaspoons or 80 ml of sugar. Choose fruit and skip the soda.

You trust claims like “low-fat” and “sugar-free”

For many years, we’ve relied on label claims that tell us what our food doesn’t contain — fat, sugar, gluten. It’s more important to look at what the food does contain. Ultra-processed foods may be fat-free or sugar-free, but also loaded with preservatives or refined ingredients. Read ingredient lists and choose foods that are as close to nature as possible.

You drink almond milk for calcium but don’t shake the carton first

Milk alternatives made from soy, almonds, cashews, rice, etc. are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D. But the added nutrients don’t stay in the liquid very well, and tend to sink to the bottom of the container. If you drink without shaking first, you can’t reap the benefits of the added vitamins and minerals. Shake well before serving.

You skip the dressing on salad

Vegetables contain fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K, and a host of antioxidants that require fat to be absorbed. If you skip the oil and vinegar, you miss out on key nutrients from the salad. Serve your greens with oil-based dressing, nuts, seeds or avocado to dramatically boost your body’s ability to soak up the veggies’ beneficial nutrients.

You miss out on probiotics by buying the wrong type of yogurt

Yogurt is fermented milk, and fermented foods contain probiotics. So, logic would dictate that all yogurts are probiotic-rich, but unfortunately that’s not the case. If yogurt has been heated or pasteurized, probiotics are destroyed and may not be added back in. Look for the words “live active cultures,” or check ingredient lists for names of specific probiotics (lactobacillus acidophilus, L bulgaricus, etc.) to ensure you’re getting these beneficial bacteria, which aid digestion and support the immune system.

You refuel with sports drinks

Sports drinks are meant to replace fluid and electrolytes that are lost when you sweat excessively, and are suitable after endurance sports like a soccer game or marathon. But the extra sugar and salt in sports drinks are not needed for casual exercise with minimal perspiration. After a stroll, hydrating with water is the best choice.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press