For many, few diseases are as frightening as dementia. Most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, it slowly robs people of their memories and their abilities.
As medical scientists continue to search for effective treatments, people may be able to lower their risk of dementia without medication. Research has shown that eating some foods may be associated with a lower risk of dementia, or a slower decline for those whose memory is already failing.
Many of these foods are part of the so-called Mediterranean diet — a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish and other seafood — which the National Institute on Aging says offers “promising evidence” for preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease.
Here’s a look at some of the foods you might want to eat now if you’re worried about developing dementia later.
Fish is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and a 2021 study published by the American Academy of Neurology found an association between fish consumption and a lower risk of cognitive decline. According to the study, benefits are most likely for those who consume at least two servings of fish every week before the age of 75.
A compound called pelargonidin gives strawberries their color and may also help ward off Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
The authors of the study hypothesize that pelargonidin’s anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce the buildup in the brain of protein fragments associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, they warn that their findings are observational only and do not prove strawberries have a preventive effect.
Foods high in flavonoids
Pelargonidin isn’t the only thing going for strawberries. This fruit is also rich in flavonoids. A 2021 study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health showed the benefits of flavonoids, and study co-author Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, said:
“There is growing evidence that flavonoids are powerhouses when it comes to preventing your ability to think from declining as you age. Our results are exciting because they show that simply changing your diet can help prevent cognitive decline.”
Other foods high in flavonoids include:
Seniors in India have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, and one study suggests this may be due to the country’s high consumption of curcumin.
This substance contained in the spice turmeric gives curries their bright color. A 2018 UCLA study found that those who had mild memory problems saw significant improvements in their memory and alertness after taking 90 mg of curcumin twice a day for 18 months.
Eating a serving of green leafy vegetables a day could slow age-related cognitive decline. That’s according to researchers from Rush University in Chicago and the Tufts Human Nutrition Research Center in Boston. Leafy greens used in their research included:
Those consuming the most — an average of 1.3 servings daily — were cognitively 11 years younger than those consuming the least.
Foods high in lutein antioxidants
Leafy greens are a good source of lutein antioxidants, and that might explain their benefits. A 2022 study published in Neurology, a journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that people with high levels of lutein in their bloodstream were less likely to develop dementia. Other sources of lutein include the following:
- summer squash
Foods high in zeaxanthin antioxidants
The same study that identified lutein’s potential benefits also linked the antioxidant zeaxanthin to a potentially lower risk of dementia. Foods high in this substance include:
- Yellow Corn
- orange juice
- honeydew melon
Foods high in beta-cryptoxanthin antioxidants
Beta-cryptoxanthin is a final antioxidant identified in the 2022 Neurology Study as potentially reducing dementia risk. The study doesn’t show a clear link, but it probably won’t hurt to include some of these foods high in beta-cryptoxanthin in your diet:
More than one study has suggested that nuts have the potential to delay or reduce memory problems. For example, one study found that women who ate five or more servings of nuts per week — preferably walnuts — were cognitively two years younger than those who didn’t. And a long-term study of Chinese adults conducted by the University of South Australia suggests that those who eat more than 10 grams of nuts a day could increase their cognitive function by up to 60%.