Caring for someone with dementia poses many challenges, including ensuring proper nutrition. While there is no special "dementia diet," certain foods should be limited or avoided to promote general health and ease common symptoms. This article will discuss five food categories that people with dementia are often advised to reduce or eliminate and why.
Sweets and Sugary Beverages
A diet high in sugar has been associated with inflammation, insulin resistance, diabetes, and vascular dementia. Sugary foods also provide empty calories without nutrients. It’s best to minimize intake of soda, juice, candy, baked goods, and other sweets. Watch out, especially for hidden sugars in sauces, dressings, etc.
There is some evidence linking high consumption of red and processed meats to inflammation in the brain and higher dementia risk. These meats are also high in saturated fats, which can negatively impact heart health. Limiting intake to no more than a few times per week is usually recommended. Choose leaner cuts of beef or pork if served.
Like sweets, refined grain products such as white bread, pasta, and rice provide plentiful calories but few nutrients for brain health. They also cause sharper spikes in blood sugar than whole grains. Limiting refined grains and choosing products made with whole grains instead can aid general health and diabetes prevention.
Processed and Fried Foods
Heavily processed foods tend to be high in salt, unhealthy fats, and additives - all things that should be limited, especially for heart health. Excess salt can also exacerbate swelling or edema. Fried foods are notorious for contributing empty calories and being hard to digest. People with dementia should avoid these types of foods.
Drinking too much alcohol contributes to dementia risk and can exacerbate symptoms like memory loss, confusion, unstable moods, and poor judgment. People with dementia become sensitive much more quickly to alcohol’s effects. For both health and safety reasons, avoiding or strictly limiting intake is wise.
Eating a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet is important for supporting general health and limiting unpleasant dementia symptoms. Consult a doctor or nutritionist about specific dietary needs, but limiting or avoiding the foods above is a good place to start.
While limiting certain foods is important, focusing on nutritious foods that support brain and body health is arguably just as essential. Some foods people with dementia should aim to incorporate include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, whole grain bread, and nutritious carbohydrates like sweet potatoes or beans. Making sure to include good proteins like fatty fish, chicken, eggs and plant-based options aids overall nutrition status. Staying hydrated with water and milk is also crucial. Adding spices like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon provides antioxidants and an anti-inflammatory boost too. Discussing with a doctor specific foods, textures, or weekly menu ideas that provide balanced nutrition can set up healthy, dementia-friendly eating habits. The key is focusing the overall diet on a variety of vitamin, mineral, and nutrient-rich whole foods.