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What we eat impacts more than just our waistline. Our diet also helps determines how well our heart functions, how quickly we age and, according to a new study, how sharp our mind stays.
According to research published in the Archives of Neurology, eating a diet rich in vitamin E may help protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. While past studies have shown that vitamins and antioxidant supplements offered no benefit to brain health, researchers wanted to find out if the same held true when nutrients were derived from whole foods, rather than from pills. Turns out, a healthy diet that includes plenty of vitamin E may help where supplements can’t.
For the study, Dutch researchers assessed the brain health and diets of 5,395 people over the age of 54 who had no signs of dementia. Over the course of 10 years, 465 participants developed dementia, 365 of who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. After adjusting for other risk factors, such as a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s, age, education, alcohol intake, smoking habits, body mass index and supplement use, researchers found that people with the highest consumption of vitamin E from food were 25 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who ate the least amount of vitamin E. Researchers also assessed how much vitamin C, beta carotene (a chemical found mainly in green and orange fruits and vegetables that the body converts into vitamin A) and flavonoids (an antioxidant found in tea, fruits and vegetables) participants consumed, but found no link between those nutrients and brain health.
Vitamin E is most abundant in wheat germ; vegetable oils such as sunflower, canola, olive and safflower oils; nuts, especially almonds and hazelnuts; sunflower seeds; leafy greens; and avocados.
Previous research has already shown that Mediterranean-style diets, which contain an ample dose of these E-saturated heart-healthy fats is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps this most recent study sheds light on part of the reason why. Health experts are always quick to point out that no single nutrient can take full credit for disease prevention, because food compounds often work together to keep our cells functioning properly. Vitamins A, D, E and K, for instance, cannot be absorbed by the body without the addition of dietary fat. Eat a fat-free meal, and a lot of those nutrients end up going to waste. The fact that a diet rich in vitamin E may protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s does not mean that adding a few almonds or wheat germ to a diet that’s loaded with saturated fat and sugar are going to keep your memory sharp. Research shows that high cholesterol levels, obesity and a large waist circumference are all associated with a greater risk of dementia. A little vitamin E isn’t going to reverse every other risk factor, but when the antioxidant is eaten as part of a healthy diet, vitamin E may just lower your risk. Choosing heart-healthy fats, like nuts and sunflower seeds instead of chips, and using olive oil or canola oil instead of butter are an easy way to start.
How would you assess your eating habits – do you choose foods based on health or taste? Chime in below!
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