Food for Thought

The food you eat can affect your brain health. We look at the top foods that boost memory and brain power.

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Foods can be categorized by a ‘glycemic index,’ which groups foods according to their carbohydrate qualities. Foods with a high glycemic index include the usual suspects — ice cream, chocolate, croissants, but also bananas, carrots and dried fruit — and can result in large increases in blood glucose after they are ingested. “There are going to be special occasions when you just have to have that slice of apple pie with ice cream. But over long periods of time, if you indulge in foods with a very high glycemic index, which can cause major downswings in glucose in between, you may be increasing your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Chow.

 In the last two years, research has indicated that high levels of insulin released by your body in response to high glycemic foods can eventually contribute to the presence of Alzheimer’s plaques in the brain. Additionally, eating habits which increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes — including the consumption of high glycemic foods — also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Red wine has been touted as being good for the heart and circulation in general, and more recently, there has been proof that one component of red wine may prevent the development of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Chow describes a New York Mount Sinai School of Medicine study done with transgenic mice.

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“These mice were bred to develop the same types of plaques found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Although Alzheimer’s involves two important proteins, (plaques and tangles), these mice just developed plaques.” When the mice had their caloric intake reduced by one-third, they developed fewer plaques in their brains. “But knowing that most people would not be willing to reduce their diet so drastically, the researchers decided to study the mice more carefully. What they found was that a substance called “resveratrol” was responsible for the decrease in plaque levels,” says Dr. Chow. “Dr. Chow recommends smaller and more frequent portions spread throughout the day.”Resveratrol can be found in red wine, the skin of grapes, and pomegranate juice.

“The next phase of the experiment was to take these mice and tank them up with wine,” says Dr. Chow. “The researchers actually made their own special Cabernet in the lab for the mice so they could carefully control the resveratrol. The mice that drank it did better.” Although people who drink red wine became very excited by this news, Dr. Chow remains cautious. “You’d have to drink a lot of red wine in order for it to protect you against Alzheimer’s. People shouldn’t be drinking that much alcohol on a daily basis,” she says.

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