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Dementia and Healthy Eating
Although the causes of all forms of dementia are not fully understood, experts are now homing in on obesity, diabetes, and sugar in our diets, as significant factors.
Professor Craig Ritchie is Director for the Centre for Dementia Prevention at Edinburgh University. He has suggested that rates of obesity and diabetes, which are important causes leading to dementia, have been hugely increased by the high levels of sugar in our diet.
At the Alzheimer Scotland’s Christmas Lecture in Edinburgh, he says that we should take the view that dementia can be avoided through lifestyle choices and that we have to believe that it can be prevented; ‘ We can build resilience, we can minimise risk.’ One step which he advocates is to minimise our use of sugar to avoid strokes and obesity, which are pre-disposing factors. One way to do this, he claims, is to introduce a sugar tax.
Professor June Andrews, dementia expert at Stirling University, agrees. Although a sugar tax is not the complete answer, she advocates that sugar should be banned in hospitals and schools, just as smoking has been banned for most public places.
Further support for this line of thinking is provided by Food Standards, Scotland. This is a public sector body based in Aberdeen advising on food safety, food standards and nutrition. They advise that many foods have excess sugar and calories, with few other nutrients.
Professor Sataar, at Glasgow University, states that we have adapted to accepting these high calorie foods, and find it difficult to change our diet. This has massively increased our risk for diabetes, obesity and, in turn, strokes, all of which can lead to dementia. The Food Standards body is recommending new dietary guidelines for a healthy Scotland, with no more than 5% of our energy intake coming from sugar.
So how can care services react to this fairly unanimous view of the need to reduce sugar to promote health, and to prevent dementia in particular?
Influence of Cooking Staff
I have worked with care homes where it is often very clear that the cook can have a major influence on the health and wellbeing of people who use the service. Cooking staff who see the essential links between food as health-giving can be extremely skilled at providing for individual choices and needs. In this way healthy weights are maintained and lifestyle opportunities for exercise and meaningful activities are taken up with ongoing health benefits.
The message is I think very clear: working with people in care, not just the elderly, must emphasise the importance of good nutrition, including minimising sugary foods. Succeeding in this can help to avoid the person developing debilitating diseases later in life, including dementia.