A second-generation family physician with 30 years of working experience, Dr. Rolf W. Meinhold works together with CaraVita Home Care to put their patients first. Dr. Meinhold specializes in heart disease and diabetes prevention through weight management and nutrition. As a fluent speaker of both English and German, Dr. Meinhold enjoys communicating helpful, positive practices to patients such as discovering and maintaining a healthy diet.
Food for Thought by Dr. Rolf W. Meinhold, MD
Who knew that diet and lifestyle could potentially prevent millions of cases of dementia per year? How, might you ask? Because it is increasingly believed that “what is good for our hearts is also good for our heads” and clogging of the arteries inside of the brain with atherosclerotic plaque is thought to play a huge role in the development of all forms of dementia. (As a note of clarification, please understand that dreaded Alzheimer’s is just one of about five subtypes of memory loss under the heading of “dementia.”) In 2014, an article published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, entitled “Dietary and Lifestyle Guidelines for the Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease," stated that:
“Vegetables, legumes, (beans, peas, and lentils) fruits and whole grains should replace meats and dairy products as primary staples of the diet.”
Because treatment may slow the progression of this disease but not stop it, prevention is critical. Prevention begins with eliminating cholesterol from the diet. Our bodies make all that we need, so we may safely eliminate all dietary sources of cholesterol. Consuming excess cholesterol, and especially trans and saturated fats can raise blood cholesterol levels, which is not only considered the primary risk factor for heart disease but is also unanimously recognized as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Cholesterol does not just help generate atherosclerotic plaque within brain arteries; it may help seed the amyloid plaques that are in the brain tissues of Alzheimer’s patients.
Preventing Alzheimer’s with Plant Foods
Because dietary decisions we make now directly influence our health later in life, it is never too early to start eating healthier. Most Alzheimer’s patients do not become diagnosed until they are in their seventies, but we know that brains begin deteriorating long before that. But the good news is that the clinical manifestations of vascular deterioration (heart disease and stroke) are preventable. Plant-based diets are recommended in Alzheimer’s prevention guidelines because of which foods they tend to accentuate and which foods they tend to reduce. The Mediterranean Diet, for example, which is higher in vegetables, beans, fruits and nuts and lower in meats and dairy products associates with a slower cognitive decline and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. The key seems to be the diet’s high vegetable content and a lower ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats. This conclusion aligns with the Harvard Women’s Health Study, which found that higher saturated fat intake (sourced primarily from dairy, meat and processed foods) associates with a worse trajectory of cognition and memory. Women with the highest saturated fat intake had a 60-70 percent greater chance of cognitive deterioration over time. Women with the lowest saturated fat intake had the brain function, on average, of women six years younger.
The benefits of a plant-based diet may also be the plants themselves. Whole plant foods contain thousands of compounds with antioxidant properties and may prevent the “rusting” of the brain caused by oxidation. Antioxidant properties of berries and dark green leafy vegetables make them the kings of brain foods of the fruit and vegetable kingdom. Researchers suspect the active ingredient may be a class of potent brain-accessing antioxidants called polyphenols. Think of cranberries and green tea, but avoid the sugars added to commercially-available cranberries and juices. Also, crucial to brain health are citrus and potassium (and contrary to common wisdom, potassium is not found in significant amounts in potato peel.)
Advanced Glycogen End Products (AGEs)
As important as getting the right nutrients is avoiding compounds that are known to accelerate the aging process. They are known as Advanced Glycogen End Products, or quite appropriately, AGEs. Other than cigarette smoke, the primary source of these aging compounds you may find in meat and meat-derived products exposed to dry-heat cooking methods. AGEs form when fat and protein-rich foods are exposed to high temperatures. More than 500 foods have been tested for these compounds, and the list can be found online. However, to give a few examples of the worst offenders, BBQ Chicken is at the top of the list, followed by bacon, broiled hot dogs, roasted chicken thigh, roasted chicken leg and pan-fried steak. You get the idea. So, next time you reach for that frozen turkey burger and go to pan fry it, just remember the AGEs are very high and reach for something else.
Dr. Michael Greger’s exhaustive book, “How Not To Die,” is the source of this information for this article and all of the information is factual—in medical jargon, all of his statements are “evidence-based.” His cookbook, “The How Not To Die Cookbook” is just out and is excellent.
If this type of information appeals to you and you are interested in speaking with Dr. Meinhold about his practice, please call the office and ask Vicki or Tammy to book you a slot. The office number is 770-772-9195.
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