When you hear about the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet, you usually hear stories of how people have lost weight, lowered their cholesterol and increased their energy. But there’s another epidemic spreading, affecting the aging population: dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s currently affects about five million people over the age of 65 in North America, and global numbers are expected to triple by the year 2050. Other age-related dementia is so common among the elderly that people consider it an inevitable part of getting older. Yet one of the major underlying causes of these diseases–degenerative problems in the brain’s small blood vessels–can be addressed through dietary changes.
That’s the premise behind Keep Your Brain Young by Dr. Fraser Smith and Dr. Ellie Aghdassi. I was able to review a copy of this “health & diet program” book recently and enjoyed looking through it. Disclaimer up front: it’s not a vegan book, nor is it entirely in line with a whole-foods, plant-based way of eating. However, it does contain some interesting facts and useful reference information, which is why I’m sharing it here.
Keep Your Brain Young is broken up into five sections: Understanding Brain Diseases, Smart Nutrients, Standard Care for Dementia, The 12-Step Healthy Brain Diet Program and Menu Plans and Recipes for a Healthy Brain. The layout is simple, almost like a magazine with lots of diagrams, sidebars and charts. It reads more like a reference book than something to go through cover to cover, and I can see it being a good complement to the wellness consulting program I’m currently enrolled in.
The text broken up by headings and bullet lists in a way that’s similar to a blog post, which can be helpful as there’s a lot of information to absorb. However, I didn’t feel that there was a consistent level of accessibility. Some of the book is overly simplified while other parts read like a handbook for doctors. If you’re already familiar with the subject of diet and brain health, you’ll probably have an easier time understanding it than someone who has no background to go on.
In the nutrient section, there’s a good overview of the effects of neurological deficiencies and general deficiency symptoms as well as food sources for important brain health nutrients. Again, the suggestions aren’t all vegan, but knowing both vegan and non-vegan sources makes it easy to find healthier alternatives to common nutrient sources. Each nutrient discussed includes a list of the daily requirement, supplemental forms and recommended supplementary levels along with toxicity symptoms and nutrient functions. It’s a very information-rich section of the book that could be used in conjunction with a knowledge of holistic medicine to help people preserve brain health as they age, especially those who have eaten the Standard American Diet most of their lives.
I was happy to see that the dietary section suggests eating fresh, organic produce and avoiding processed foods as part of a brain-healthy diet. However, it also uses the USDA MyPlate guidelines and recommends that both fish and eggs be included. On the flipside, it does hinge on the idea of taking care of yourself as a whole to combat the conditions that lead to dementia. Ideas such as controlling blood sugar and consuming higher levels of antioxidants are discussed.
Several of the recipes in the last portion of the book are vegan-friendly or easy to veganize, including this one for a Super Antioxidant Smoothie. It’s a basic smoothie recipe that can be enjoyed as-is or used as a template for other smoothie ideas. Personally, I’d add a few chia seeds and a chunk of cucumber!
Super Antioxidant Smoothie
This simple smoothie provides a wide range of antioxidants and plenty of sweetness to balance and carry the spinach.
1 cup loosely packed baby spinach 250 mL
1 cup frozen cherries, blueberries or blackberries 250 mL
1 cup plain almond milk 250 mL
In blender, purée spinach, cherries and almond milk until smooth. Pour into two glasses and serve immediately.
Almond milk is available in a variety of flavors, but be sure to choose plain almond milk for this recipe. (QV’s note: Go for unsweetened!)
In addition to being high in protein, almond milk is an excellent source of vitamin E, an important antioxidant that plays a role in supporting normal heart and brain function, as well as in promoting a healthy complexion.
Makes 2 servings
Courtesy of Keep Your Brain Young: A Health & Diet Program for Your Brain Including 150 Recipes by Dr. Fraser Smith & Ellie Aghdassi 2014 © www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission.
Dr. Smith’s goal in the book is to present a diet and health program for people who may be battling dementia or who are concerned about the potential of developing it as they age. All in all, though, when considered in light of a plant-based diet, the program seems a bit too complicated. If you’re already familiar with eating more whole foods and less processed junk, you’re likely on the right path to brain health.
However, since the brain is such a complex organ, it doesn’t hurt to have extra information on how specific nutrients and lifestyle changes can help to stave off potential problems as you age. For those who’d like that kind of reference book, Keep Your Brain Young is a good resource.