By: Dr. Keith Darrow, PhD, CCC-A

What Science Tells Us

Have you ever found yourself suddenly craving a slice of rich chocolate cake or a bag of salty potato chips? We've all experienced food cravings at some point in our lives, often linked to our emotions, habits, or even nutrient deficiencies. But did you know that there might be a deeper connection between food cravings and dementia?

Dementia is a neurodegenerative condition that affects millions of people worldwide, causing a decline in cognitive function and memory loss. While much research has focused on the biological and genetic factors contributing to dementia, recent studies have begun to shed light on how food cravings may intersect with this complex condition.

My published cookbook, Healthy Food Healthy Brain, is your definitive guide to doing more to ensure you stay mentally, physically and cognitively healthy by eating the right foods and making sure you feed your brain the very best, every day, every meal.

For a complimentary copy of my book, tap this link and get started!  www.brainhealthyrecipes.com.

To understand this relationship better, let's delve into the science behind food cravings and how they may influence the development and progression of dementia.

The Brain’s Reward System

Our brains are wired to seek out pleasure and reward, and food is one of the most potent sources of these sensations. When we eat certain foods, especially those high in sugar, fat, or salt, our brains release neurotransmitters like dopamine, which are associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This response reinforces the behavior, leading to cravings for similar foods in the future.

In individuals with dementia, changes in the brain's structure and function can disrupt this reward system. Research suggests that alterations in areas of the brain involved in processing taste and pleasure, such as the insula and striatum, may contribute to altered food preferences and cravings in people with dementia.

Emotional and Psychological Factors

Food cravings are not solely driven by biological factors; they can also be influenced by emotions and psychological states. Stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are common experiences for many individuals living with dementia, and these emotions can impact appetite and food choices.

Moreover, the progression of dementia can lead to changes in behavior and personality, including increased impulsivity or agitation, which may manifest as cravings for specific foods. For example, someone who was once health-conscious may develop a preference for sweets or high-calorie foods due to changes in their brain chemistry or emotional state.

Nutritional Considerations

Nutritional status plays a crucial role in the management of dementia, as a balanced diet can help support cognitive function and overall well-being. However, individuals with dementia may experience difficulties in maintaining proper nutrition due to factors such as decreased appetite, impaired swallowing, or forgetfulness.

Interestingly, certain nutritional deficiencies have been linked to food cravings and dementia risk. For instance, studies have suggested that inadequate intake of nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and B vitamins may contribute to cognitive decline and increase the likelihood of developing dementia. Addressing these deficiencies through dietary interventions or supplementation could potentially help mitigate food cravings and support brain health.

Practical Strategies

So, what can be done to address food cravings in individuals with dementia? While there's no one-size-fits-all solution, several strategies may help manage cravings and promote healthier eating habits:

  1. Offer Nutrient-Dense Options: Provide a variety of nutrient-rich foods that are appealing and easy to eat, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  2. Limit Trigger Foods: While it's essential to respect individual preferences, try to minimize access to foods high in sugar, fat, and salt, as they can exacerbate cravings and contribute to poor health outcomes.
  3. Encourage Regular Meals: Establishing a routine for meals and snacks can help regulate appetite and prevent excessive hunger, which may trigger cravings for unhealthy foods.
  4. Address Underlying Needs: Consider whether cravings may be a signal of unmet needs, such as thirst, boredom, or loneliness. Engaging in meaningful activities, social interactions, or providing adequate hydration may help alleviate cravings.
  5. Consult with Healthcare Professionals: Work closely with healthcare providers, including dietitians and dementia specialists, to develop personalized nutrition plans that address individual needs and preferences.

Beans are great for brain function, and below is a healthy lunch recipe from my cookbook. Please feel free to let me know if you enjoy it!

Tex-Mex Bean Salad with Salsa Dressing

Beans provide the brain with its preferred fuel: glucose. Brain functions such as thinking, memory, and learning are closely linked to glucose levels and how efficiently the brain uses the fuel source.

Beans are rich in fiber, B vitamins, and Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Fiber helps keep you full longer and creates a gradual release of sugar, helping concentration and memory so you can keep a steady workflow throughout the day.

If you are not fond of black beans, substitute them for 1 cup of chicken breast cubed or tofu.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup black beans (or beans of your choice)
  • 1 small avocado – cut into chunks
  • 2 green onions – chopped
  • ½ cup cilantro – chopped
  • 6 grape tomatoes
  • A handful of mixed greens

Dressing Ingredients:

  • ½ cup salsa
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

For the Dressing:

Whisk together salsa, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil. Set aside.

Directions:

  1. Combine beans, avocado, green onions, cilantro, and tomatoes.
  2. Mix well with dressing.
  3. Enjoy over a bed of mixed greens.

Macronutrients

  • 350 calories
  • 16 grams protein
  • 37 grams carbohydrates
  • 10 grams fat

Food cravings are a complex phenomenon influenced by various biological, emotional, and environmental factors. While the relationship between food cravings and dementia is still being explored, understanding these dynamics can help caregivers and healthcare professionals better support individuals living with this condition.

By promoting a nutrient-rich diet, addressing emotional and psychological needs, and implementing practical strategies to manage cravings, we can enhance the quality of life and well-being of those affected by dementia. Ultimately, a holistic approach that considers the interplay between food, cognition, and emotions is essential in supporting brain health and overall vitality.

As I bring you essential information each month about the connection between eating healthy and long term overall active aging, it is important to keep in mind that the number one way to potentially prevent dementia and cognitive decline is to FIRST TREAT YOUR HEARING LOSS!

Please remember this month and every month to treat your hearing loss and tinnitus and feed your brain for optimal performance.

And, again, don’t forget your complimentary free copy of my book! www.brainhealthyrecipes.com

To learn more about aging gracefully, treating hearing loss, and maintaining a healthy brain, please visit – www.excellenceinaudiology.org.

The World's Award-Winning Hearing & Tinnitus Treatment Specialists
Highly professional and passionate about hearing health care!— Kerr B.
The reviews listed are from actual patients of Excellence in Audiology. Individual results may vary. Reviews are not claimed to represent results for everyone.
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