Caring Currents

Foods That Prevent Memory Loss

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"You are what you eat" goes an old saying. How about "You remember what you eat"? More proof that diet can influence cognitive health and dementia was announced this week from a long-term study involving more than 3,000 people ages 65 and older who had no sign of dementia at its start.

Over the 11-year course of the study, the subjects who showed the least mental decline were those whose normal diets most closely resembled the low-fat, high-fiber DASH diet "“ Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. DASH is a diet commonly used to combat high blood pressure, which is one of the risk factors for dementia.

Utah State University researchers say that this same group had also scored the highest on memory, attention span, and problem solving skills at the beginning of the study.

So what's in the DASH diet?

  • Whole grains (at least three whole-grain foods per day)

  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products

  • Nuts, seeds, and dry beans

  • Vegetables and fruit At least eight servings a day. (Only 11 percent of Americans consume even the USDA minimum of five fruits and vegetables, says a 2007 report.)

  • Fish and poultry; minimal lean red meat

  • Limited fats and sweets

  • Minimal sodium (about 1 teaspoon, or 2,400 mg/day) (A variation known as DASH/sodium calls for just 1,500 mg/day)

Sounds like basic diet stuff you've heard before, I know. But studies like this new Utah one affirm why nutritionists and doctors are so keen on it: It really is good for us, whether we have high blood pressure or not. And unlike some so-called "diets," the basic tenets of DASH are more commonsensical than onerous. The National Institutes of Health offers lots of specifics on how to implement a DASH diet lifestyle.

Researchers haven't ferreted out exactly what dietary components are most helpful, or in what combination or amount, but I wouldn't wait for this "magic bullet" discovery. There's too much evidence piling up that an overall heart-healthy lifestyle is protective against dementia, so these rough guidelines are as good a place to start as any.