Battling Dementia with Proper Nutrition

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Sally Smith:  Welcome to Age to Age.  I’m Sally Smith.  Let’s talk.  Today, we’re fortunate to have with us Lotta Granholm-Bentley.  She’s a PhD, Basic Science, and Director of Center on Aging, among many other titles.  She is very kind to talk with us today.  She has many fields of expertise, but one of them I’d love to hear her talk about, and one that we all want to hear her talk about, is what foods are advantageous to eat if you’re hoping to stave off Alzheimer’s.  I know there’s a theory that some foods do help, and we’d love to know what you think about this.


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  Well, first of all, I’d to say that food in moderation is a good thing, you know, not eating too much, which is what I think we tend to do in this country.  We eat too much meat and fatty foods, so I like to go in the other direction and propose that we eat more vegetables.


Sally Smith:  Well, I’ve heard the adage, and everyone has, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.  As I was doing some reading in preparation for talking with you, I came upon an article that is very strong on an apple a day, just exactly that.  They say it’s because it has high levels of quercetin, which blocks certain things.  Is this the goal, to block certain things that might bring on Alzheimer’s?


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  Yes.  In fact, we call these foods antioxidant foods.  We’ve actually done, in my lab, studies on blueberries, spirulina, an algae, spinach, those kinds of things.  They all contain very high levels of antioxidants, which actually block a process in the body called oxidative stress.  And it’s been known that oxidative stress can damage cells in the body, and in the brain, and can cause heart disease, neurological disorders, all kinds of problems, especially as we age.


Sally Smith:  Well, I’m fascinated by that.  It’s so interesting how widespread the effects of diet are.  And, as I read, I began to see that, oftentimes, the same foods recommended for staving off Alzheimer’s were also beneficial for preventing cancer and many other things that can occur in the body.  Now, blueberries, how do you pick what you’re going to research?  Is it because people have said that blueberries are healthful, and now you’re trying to check out, scientifically, if that’s a fact?  What is it about blueberries?


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  Well, first of all, the FDA has done a lot of studies in terms of this.  They have looked at different food groups.  At Tufts University in Boston, Dr. James Joseph has done studies on different food groups, investigating their ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), which means their antioxidant value, and blueberries and strawberries came up. 


We’ve been collaborating with a group in Florida.  Dr. Paula Bickford, who I’ve been collaborating with for a long time, has done studies showing that blueberries, which are among foods high in antioxidants, actually seem to have an even higher value.  Then, within blueberries, there are the wild, so-called low-growing, and cultivated blueberries, the wild ones having a higher value.  

Sally Smith:  Well, I’m wondering about quantity.  In the article I read on apples, they were very specific.  They said that one a day is good, and eat it fresh because the value is in the skin.  That was interesting.  They were saying that applesauce and cider don’t really give you what a fresh apple will.  How is it with blueberries, do you eat a cup a day?  How much is enough, half a cup?


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  We’ve actually done studies on that in rats.  You know, rats are great because they’re very objective; it works or it doesn’t work.  It’s funny, but we’ve tested their memory.  It sounds strange, but two percent of their diet was enough to affect their memory enormously.  We could translate that to about a cup a day.


Sally Smith:  Wow.  Two percent made a difference?


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  A huge difference.  So, we took rats that were somewhat aged, over, you know, middle-age, 18 months; for a rat, that is about middle-age, my age, and gave them two percent blueberries for, I think it was, eight weeks.  Then, we tested their memory.


Sally Smith:  Unbelievable.  Five or six things you’d steadily have in your diet would be, what, apples, blueberries, strawberries…


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  Spinach.


Sally Smith:  Spinach.  Are there other things like this that are in that category of healthful foods?


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  Yeah.  I think any green leaf vegetables, broccoli; we eat lots of broccoli, because it also has iron in it, and that’s important, of course.


Sally Smith:  So, is it foods dark in color, did I hear you say that one time?


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  Yeah, dark-leafed vegetables, and potatoes, which surprised me, unpeeled.  So, when I make mashed potatoes, I leave the skin on because it contains vitamin C and vitamin E.  Vitamin A, C, E and D, all, have antioxidants, so they’re very important.


Sally Smith:  So, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, with the skin on, and what sort of meat do you eat?  I’ve heard you talk about eating fish on a regular basis.


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids.  And I know that everyone has heard you have to eat your omega-3s.  So, fish is very important.  But, it’s interesting.  It used to be when our farm animals were roaming freely and foraging, they actually had omega-3s.  Pigs have been genetically altered; we’ve changed their food, and they no longer have a huge value of omega-3.


Sally Smith:  That is terrifying. 


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  Yeah.  There’s actually, now, a Spanish pig which, in Europe, is very popular to make ham with.  It hasn’t been genetically altered.  It’s still very high in omega-3s.


Sally Smith:  Well, could you just change the diet of our pigs?  Could our pig chow, now, have omega-3s in it, and it would put it back in the diet?


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  No.  I think we’ve changed farm animals so much, they’ve strayed away from their wild existence.


Sally Smith:  We’re crazy for messing with Mother Nature.  So, is there any particular kind of fish that you eat?


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  No.  I eat a variety of foods.  I think that’s important.  How you cook them is also important, which we might talk about later.  You know, you don’t use a lot of butter or trans fats.  So, I do a lot of pan searing in olive oil.  I eat fish, pork, anything, a variety of foods, sometimes a good steak, you know, why not?


Sally Smith:  Sometimes that’s very good.


Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley:  Yes.


Sally Smith:  But, everything in moderation.  Well, wonderful, I’m going to be much healthier the next time you see me.  I’m going to the fresh produce section and forget this processed stuff.  Thank you so much, Lotta, for being with us today and telling us about your research.  Thanks to all our listeners, too, for joining us.  We always welcome your suggestions.  Please give us your comments on our website.  This is Sally Smith, Age to Age, saying good-bye and wishing you courage and joy on your journey.  We are all connected. 


If you enjoy listening to Sally Smith, you can buy her book, The Circle.  It’s the story of how she personally responded to her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease.  It’s a wonderful gift of hope for anyone with a parent with dementia.  Just click on Sally Smith’s name under the Health Professionals tab on the Podcast home page.  All profits support research at the Center on Aging.  Thanks.

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