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Fruit juice might lower your risk of dementia, and other facts about foods you “should avoid”

Read to me!

“Are there any foods I should avoid?”

Lists of “foods to avoid for dementia” may seem helpful as they tell you clearly what and what not to eat. But over time, this black-and-white thinking about food will likely stress you out.

In my work, people tell me that lists of foods to avoid make eating complicated. This can lead to anxiety, cravings, and binge eating.

When food becomes a cognitive burden like this, it will no longer help you prevent dementia or improve your brain health.

Today I will share with you some lesser-known facts about three common so-called “foods to avoid for dementia.” I will also show you how to include these foods in a low-stress way that supports your brain health.

Are there foods to avoid for dementia?

Looking at the MIND way of eating, no foods are completely off-limits.

If you missed how the MIND pattern lowers your risk of dementia, check out this post here!

The MIND pattern encourages green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, beans and poultry.

There are also foods the MIND pattern suggests limiting:

  • Butter and margarine, less than 1 Tbsp per day
  • Cheese, less than once a week
  • Red meat, 3 or fewer times a week
  • Fast-fried foods, less than once a week
  • Pastries and sweets, 4 or fewer times a week
  • Wine, one glass a day, but not more

This list doesn’t say to completely avoid these foods. Instead, it describes a type of “moderation.”

Are there foods to avoid for dementia? The MIND pattern of eating suggests limiting some foods. This pattern gives guidance on “moderation.” But no foods are completely off limits. For example, people who ate fried foods or sweets still have a lower risk of dementia if other parts of their diet matched the MIND pattern.

Cognitive function was still found to be better in those whose eating habits were moderately in line with MIND. Those who had the best cognitive function ate closer to the MIND pattern. But their eating habits still weren’t a perfect match to all the MIND recommendations.

Any dietary changes that move you toward the MIND suggestions help reduce your risk of dementia. Even if these changes aren’t perfect.

“Is sugar bad for you?”

Is sugar linked to dementia? Most of the research looks at sugar-sweetened drinks. But fruit juice can lower your risk of dementia!

Sugar doesn’t always increase your risk of dementia.

Fruit juice is often labelled as a “bad food” because it contains sugar. However, one large study found that roughly one cup of real fruit juice a day lowered the risk of dementia.

Sugar tends to be more of a problem when it comes from sugar-sweetened drinks. For example, sodas. These are associated with a higher risk of dementia.

Take note that “diet” sodas might not be the best replacement. Studies show drinks with artificial sugars might also be associated with dementia risk.

What to do about sugar?

If you are craving a sugary drink, go for real fruit juice (not a “fruit drink”). You can have this once a day unless otherwise advised by your healthcare team.

For other sweets and treats, MIND recommends having these four or fewer times a week. This means you can still have your cake and eat it too!

“Is milk bad for you?”

Does milk cause dementia? There is no good evidence to support this. In fact, dairy products might lower your risk of dementia! Especially fermented dairy products like yogurt, fermented cheeses, or kefir.

Studies on milk and cognitive function show no effect. Dairy might even lower the risk of dementia. Yet, the research is still up for debate.

Fermented dairy products, like yogurt and fermented cheeses, contain nutrients and other active ingredients. These might help lower your risk of dementia while supporting brain health.

Higher fat dairy products, like whole milk, are thought to contribute to dementia risk because they are high in saturated fats. This is why the MIND pattern recommends limiting cheese – it’s not the dairy, it’s the saturated fat content.

What to do about milk & dairy?

Unless you have an allergy or intolerance, you don’t need to avoid milk or dairy products. Try including some lower-fat and/or fermented options like cottage cheese and kefir.

“Is gluten bad for you?”

Gluten and dementia. Should everyone avoid gluten? No. Gluten doesn’t seem to affect cognitive function outside of celiac disease or gluten-related disorders. Cutting gluten from your diet without just cause can have consequences! Get assessed if you want to cut out wheat. And mix up your grains to get the benefit of all whole grains whether they contain gluten or not!

If you don’t have celiac disease, or any wheat allergies or sensitivities, then there’s currently no reason to worry about gluten.

A large long-term study showed that gluten did not affect cognitive function in middle-aged women without celiac.

Research does show a possible higher risk for vascular dementia in people with celiac disease. There’s also a theory that people with wheat sensitivity could be more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s Disease. But there is no great evidence at this time.

Cutting gluten from your diet does have consequences if it’s not needed! I suggest my clients go see their doctor and get assessed for celiac, wheat allergy and non-celiac wheat sensitivity if they want to try gluten-free.

What to do about gluten?

You don’t have to cut out gluten unless you have a gluten-related disorder. Though you can get more variety in your diet by exploring different types of grains!

Mix up your whole grains. Add quinoa to salads, make wraps with corn tortillas, or use buckwheat for porridge.

What are my options?

There aren’t any strict foods to avoid for dementia prevention. The MIND pattern only suggests limiting some foods, not completely cutting them out.

If you’d like to try reducing some of these foods, you can still have them. Just alternate with these other options:

  • Butter or margarine: Swap for olive oil, avocado, hummus, or nut/seed butter.
  • Cheese: Try lower-fat cheeses, like cottage cheese, or recipes with nutritional yeast.
  • Red meat: Alternate red meats with fish, chicken, and vegetarian meals with beans or tofu.
  • Fast-fried foods: Air fryers have recently become quite popular. You can also try one-pot or one-pan meals for quicker prep.
  • Pastries and sweets: Alternate with dessert tofu, a smoothie, avocado or chia pudding. Dark chocolate is also a good choice.

Take home message

There aren’t any strict foods to avoid for dementia.

Many clients of mine say they have a hard time deciding what to eat. Brain injuries can make menu planning, meal prepping, and eating difficult.

Focusing on what NOT to eat often makes deciding what to eat so much harder! Unless you have allergies, intolerances, or other food-related disorders, it’s best to focus on what TO eat.

Regardless of your dietary needs, if deciding what to eat is a challenge for you, I’m here to help! Reach out. I’m happy to work with you 🙂

I’ve helped many clients to menu plan for their day or week. I have visual recipes and a step-by-step menu planning guide we can work through.

If any of this sounds interesting, get in touch with me here.

Best in brain health,

Krystal Merrells

Registered Dietitian

Concussion Warrior