Reduce your risk of dementia
Dementia can happen to anyone. The risk of developing dementia increases with age. However, that risk isn’t an inevitable part of ageing and can sometimes be reduced by eating a healthy diet, such as following the Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean diet means eating the way people traditionally eat in many Mediterranean countries. This page explains how to achieve that.
Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruit, and whole grains
Vegetables, legumes (cooked dried beans, split peas and lentils), fruit, and whole grains are high in nutrients such as folate and vitamin B6, and low in saturated and total fat.These can help lower your risk of dementia as well as other diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Aim for at least:
- three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day (a serving is the amount that fits in one hand)
- three servings of legumes a week (a serving is ¾ cup cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils)
- six servings of grain foods a day. Choose mostly whole grain (a serving is one slice of bread, ½ to one cup of breakfast cereal, or one cup of cooked rice or pasta).
Limit saturated fats and trans fats
Saturated fat is found mainly in:
- whole milk (dark blue top) and full-fat milk products
- coconut oil
- palm oil
- processed foods such as biscuits, pies, cake, and chips.
Trans fats are found in some packaged foods and fried foods such as pastries and chips, and are shown on ingredients lists as “partially hydrogenated oils”. Limiting saturated and trans fats can help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and diabetes.
- If you eat red meat, limit this to no more than three days a week. A serving is the size and thickness of the palm of your hand (about 100 g cooked). Eating less red meat will also lower your risk of some types of cancer.
- Trim the visible fat and skin off meat and chicken.
- Try replacing some of the red meat in recipes with other protein foods. Fish and chicken are lean healthy choices. Legumes are high in nutrients and low in fat, and work well in place of mince in stews and casseroles.
- Choose low-fat (green or yellow top) or reduced-fat (light blue top) milk and milk products.
- Use healthy oils in cooking, such as olive oil, canola oil, or rice bran oil.
- Eat mainly fresh, unprocessed foods.
Eat nuts and seeds regularly
Nuts and seeds are high in nutrients such as vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A small handful (30 g) of nuts or seeds a day is all you need. This also helps to lower your risk of other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Choose nuts and seeds that are unsalted, raw, or dry-roasted at home with no added fat.
Eat fish regularly
Eating fish and other seafood regularly may lower the risk of dementia as well as heart disease. Choose oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna) often, as these are high in omega-3. Aim for at least two servings of fish or other seafood a week. A serving is one medium fillet of fish.
Keep a healthy weight
Being at a healthy weight may help lower your risk of dementia.
- If you are middle-aged and overweight, losing weight can help improve memory and other brain functions.
- However, if you are aged over 70, losing weight can actually worsen brain function. Always speak with your doctor or other health professional before starting a weight-loss programme.
Eating a balanced diet and staying active can help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.
- Regular physical activity can also help to reduce the risk of dementia and other diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Coffee contains antioxidants that may help prevent memory loss. For general health, if you choose to drink coffee, limit it to four or five cups of instant coffee or three shots of espresso a day.
Alcohol in moderation
If you choose to drink alcohol, red wine is a better choice. If you have it as part of a Mediterranean diet, the antioxidants in red wine may help reduce the risk of dementia. However, alcohol can increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
Limit consumption to:
- Women – no more than two standard drinks a day.
- Men – no more than three standard drinks a day
- At least two alcohol-free days a week.
Keep your mouth healthy
Keeping your teeth and mouth healthy may help lower your risk of dementia.
- Limit sugary foods and drinks, which can damage your teeth
- Brush and floss your teeth every day.
Supplements and alternative medicine
There is no reliable evidence to support any specific supplements or alternative medicines to slow down dementia. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or other health professional before taking supplements or alternative medicines, as these can interact with your other prescribed medications.