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Nutrition and Dementia: Uncovering What Foods Cause Dementia

Written by Amanda Lundberg
 about the author
4 minute readLast updated June 29, 2023

Dietary choices have powerful impacts, particularly for our senior loved ones. Their brain health can be significantly influenced by what they consume. From processed cheeses and meats to simple carbohydrates, modern diets often contain foods linked to dementia, contributing to inflammation and plaque buildup in the brain. Incorporating leafy greens, cold-water fish, berries, and healthy oils in their meals can bolster their brain health and potentially slow down dementia progression.

Key Takeaways

  1. Research reveals a compelling link between the foods our loved ones consume and the development of cognitive diseases. Dietary habits are not only shaping physical health but also significantly influencing cognitive health.
  2. Certain foods can increase the risk of Alzheimer's. These foods often trigger inflammation and a buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain, both of which contribute to impaired cognitive function.
  3. Several foods can promote brain health and potentially slow the progression of dementia. These foods offer beneficial nutrients and antioxidants that support brain function and overall wellness.
  4. Modifying dietary habits can be challenging but is critical for dementia nutrition. By replacing dementia-triggering foods with healthier, brain-boosting options, you can significantly reduce dementia risk factors and enhance cognitive vitality.

Four foods that trigger dementia

Dementia is a collective term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline. Cognitive decline is a symptom of several underlying diseases and brain disorders. Alzheimer’s disease is a prominent form of dementia, and a growing body of research is uncovering connections between Alzheimer’s disease and the foods we consume.
The modern diet includes several foods linked to dementia that you should work to limit in your loved one’s diet. These foods include:
  1. Processed meats and cheeses. Foods like American cheese, mozzarella sticks, spray cheese, bacon, smoked turkey, and ham contain nitrates, which convert to nitrites in the body causing inflammation, a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
  2. Beer and red wine. These popular beverages also contain nitrates.
  3. Simple carbohydrates. Refined foods like pasta, cakes, white sugar, white rice, and white bread cause spikes in insulin production and contribute to the formation of toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.
  4. Microwave popcorn. A surprising entry on this list is microwave popcorn, containing diacetyl, a chemical that may increase amyloid plaques in the brain. A buildup of amyloid plaques has been directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. [01,02,03]

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Why do certain foods contribute to dementia?

Certain foods contribute to dementia due to the types of nutrients they contain, and how they interact with the body. A healthy brain, similar to other organs, requires its own brand of fuel. It thrives on a diet rich in:
Unfortunately, consuming too many simple carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugars can stimulate the production of toxins in the body. These toxins can contribute to inflammation and the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain, leading to impaired cognitive function.[01]

Foods to eat to avoid dementia or slow cognitive decline

Despite the connections between diet and dementia, it’s encouraging to know that there’s a flip side to the coin. Several foods boost brain health and can potentially slow down the progression of dementia. The following foods are beneficial for the body and brain, regardless of whether a person already has dementia.
  1. Leafy green vegetables: Vegetables such as spinach and kale are packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants that promote brain health.
  2. Cold-water fish: Salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, and other cold-water fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, known for their brain-health benefits.
  3. Berries and dark-skinned fruits: These are high in antioxidants and vitamins that protect the brain from damage.
  4. Coffee and dark chocolate: Both coffee and dark chocolate provide potent antioxidants beneficial for brain health.
  5. Extra virgin olive oil and cold-pressed virgin coconut oil: These oils contain healthy fats that support brain function. [04]

How the DASH diet can reduce dementia risk

Recent research has indicated a strong correlation between adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and a reduced risk of dementia.[05] The DASH diet is characterized by high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy products, and limiting saturated fats and sugars. This approach has been shown to reduce hypertension, a significant risk factor for dementia.
Additionally, this diet is rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients that promote brain health. Studies have found that individuals following the DASH diet were less likely to develop cognitive impairment and dementia, likely due to better control of blood pressure, improved brain health, and overall healthier dietary patterns.[05] However, while the connection appears strong, more long-term, controlled studies are needed to fully understand the extent of the DASH diet’s protective effect on cognitive health.

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Making the dietary shift for dementia nutrition

Understanding the connection between nutrition and brain health helps caregivers make informed choices for their aging parents. Although changing dietary habits can be challenging, it’s critical to avoid foods linked to dementia and incorporate more of those that are beneficial. By replacing processed foods, like processed meats and simple carbohydrates, with healthier options like leafy greens and lean proteins, you can significantly reduce dementia risk factors. Additionally, incorporating brain-boosting foods can enhance overall wellness and cognitive vitality. Every step toward a healthier diet is a step toward better brain health.
If you find your senior loved one needs more assistance than you can provide and are interested in discussing senior living options that assist in promoting healthy diets for seniors, speak with a senior care advisor today.


  1. Li, J., Li, S., Yang, H., Zhang, Y., Zhang, S., Ma, Y., Hou, Y., Zhang, X., Niu, K., Borne, Y., & Wang, Y. (2022, September). Association of Ultraprocessed Food Consumption With Risk of Dementia: A Prospective Cohort Study.Neurology.

  2. More, S. S., Vartak, A. P., & Vince, R. (2012, June 5). The butter flavorant, diacetyl, exacerbates β-amyloid cytotoxicity.Chemical Research in Toxicology.

  3. National Institute on Aging. (2019, November 7). What do we know about diet and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease?

Meet the Author
Amanda Lundberg

Amanda Lundberg, RN, has over 10 years’ experience in clinical settings, working extensively with seniors and focusing on wellness and preventative care.

Edited byLeah Hallstrom

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