Living longer we may be, but record numbers of people are experiencing cognitive decline and dementia.
In fact, in mid-November, Brits woke up to the scary headline that dementia is now the leading cause of death in England and Wales. How long will it be before such headlines appear in the USA?
And yet some populations in the world not only live long, healthy lives, but remain cognitively healthy too. What do they know that we don’t?
Which Regions Have the Healthiest Brains?
The habitats of the world’s longest-lived, healthiest, most dementia-free people range from the Okinawa islands of Japan to the Nicoya area of Costa Rica, the PACA region of southeastern France or the adjacent Liguria district of northwest Italy — with other pockets of exceptional health located in Greece, Spain, Central and South America.
Just from reading that list, you can see that their lifestyles, cuisines and cultures vary greatly, but don’t be misled: all of them have seven dietary factors in common. Following their example might be a good idea.
According to Preston W. Estep, author of The Mindspan Diet, this is what they eat. . .
1. Consume relatively low animal protein and less red meat. High dementia populations eat 140 grams of protein a day, of which two-thirds comes from animal sources. Low dementia populations eat a third less protein, and this is split equally between animal and plant sources. They also drink less milk.
2. Routinely eat moderate amounts of fish. Less than one percent of calorie intake in the US comes from fish compared with one one-and-a-half percent in the Mediterranean and five percent in Japan.
3. Fat intake is mainly monounsaturated, and the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats is low. In typical Western diets the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is 15 to 1. It is considerably lower in the diets of the countries and regions on the super-healthy list. They consume much less polyunsaturated fat from seed oils and more omega 3 from fish.While fat intake in this group varies from less than 10% of calories to well over 40%, it is mainly in the form of monounsaturated oils. High quantities of olive oil are used in the Mediterranean, while the Japanese use much lower amounts of cold pressed canola oil for low temperature stir-frying.
4. Beans. People in the super-healthy regions eat more of these fiber-rich foods, which are also a good sources of plant protein and contain healthy ratios of omega 6 to omega 3 fats.
5. Fermented, pickled and preserved foods. Up to 30% of their calorie intake comes from foods that support gut bacteria. This is double the amount eaten in the US.The French and Italians enjoy wine, vinegar, grass-fed cheese and yogurt. In traditional Japanese cuisine, miso, natto, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sake, and pickled vegetables/fish are widely consumed.
6. An abundance of vegetables, greens and herbs. In the Mediterranean these includes Swiss chard, escarole (endive), purslane, leeks and onions. Herbs include basil, thyme and oregano. Japanese eat plenty of seaweeds and sea vegetables.
7. Tea, coffee and red wine are drunk with meals. This a feature of all the world’s pockets of exceptional health. In Japan, green tea is usually drunk at every meal. Italians are more likely to drink coffee or red wine. Costa Ricans indulge in coffee. The French enjoy them all. Drinking with meals helps to restrict iron absorption. Excess iron has been linked to Alzheimer’s and many other degenerative diseases.
Appreciate Your Meals
One other valuable tip to take from these long-lived and cognitively-healthy populations is that when it comes to eating, they take their time. Slower eaters tend to eat less, are less hungry and are slimmer than fast eaters.
In Japan, traditional meals are methodical and unhurried. Mealtimes are also leisurely in the Mediterranean.
So avoid gulping down your food. Take your time and savor each moment.
The Mindspan Diet by Preston W. Estep, Ph.D.