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With women at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s than men, what we eat may actually help prevent dementia down the road, according to Lisa Mosconi, author of The XX Brain: The Groundbreaking Science Empowering Women to Maximize Cognitive Health and Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease.
“Women make up two third of Alzheimer’s cases and the chapter of a woman’s life when she goes through perimenopause (when the body starts to produce less estrogen) may actually be a critical point in whether she will go on to develop dementia,” Mosconi told TODAY.
In an interview with TODAY, neuroscientist and nutritionist Lisa Mosconi talked about the importance of a healthy diet for women – with a focus on three particular food groups.
“From a biological perspective, food is not just food. Food is information, food is molecules that will enter your body and end up inside your brain, and they do serve a very specific function in the brain,” Mosconi, who studies how lifestyle can reduce Alzheimer’s risk, told TODAY. “So depending on your food choices, you can eat foods that contain nutrients that are really helpful to the brain.”
Mosconi told TODAY she recommends women consume the following foods for brain health:
Antioxidant Vitamin Foods:
Foods high in antioxidant vitamins are important because “they protect our brains against aging and free radical production,” Mosconi revealed.
These types of antioxidant foods include:
Vitamin A: found in fruits and vegetables that have an orange-red color, including carrots, sweet potatoes and butternut squash.
Vitamin C: good sources include citrus fruits, such as lemons, grapefruits and oranges; berries, including goji berries; and dark leafy greens.
Vitamin E: found in almonds, nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil and other vegetable oils.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids:
“The brain needs DHA, a type of omega-3 fat, for cellular and neuronal health, and since the body doesn’t make essential fatty acids, it must be obtained from the diet,” Mosconi told TODAY, revealing the best sources are cold water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring. Vegetarians can get sources from flaxseed, extra virgin olive oil and almonds.
“Women and men who consume at least 2 grams of omega-3s per day have a 70% lower risk of dementia later in life compared to people whose diets don’t contain enough omega-3s,” Mosconi shared.
Mosconi told TODAY, the “natural drop in estrogen during menopause means women lose an important layer of protection for their brains” and may want to consider eating a diet rich in phytoestrogens. Unlike taking a traditional hormone replacement therapy, diets rich in phytoestrogens can be like receiving a “mild estrogen replacement therapy without the side effects.”
According to Mosconi, soy is one of the biggest phytoestrogen sources, but she has “concerns it’s often polluted and genetically modified in the U.S.”
“Other good sources of phytoestrogens include flaxseeds and flaxseed oil; sesame seed and sesame oil; dried apricots; legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans; and grains, especially oats and wild rice,” Mosconi told TODAY.
Cantaloupe, dark chocolate and berries are other sources we can incorporate into our diets.
“If you think about the different foods that contain phytoestrogen, those are all really key ingredients of the Mediterranean diet,” Mosconi shared with TODAY. “It’s the one diet that’s been consistently shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia and to specifically benefit women.”
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