Alzheimer's Disease, the Sugary Truth?

Hope everyone had a lovely Easter and Spring Break, if applicable. If you have leftover ham, consider this family favorite for dinner tonight, which I posted about in 2011: Ham and Sweet-Potato Hash with Fried Eggs. Now that my kids have grown, I find myself doubling the onions and sweet potatoes and eggs, rather than the ham, which must mean something, when weighed in the balance against my many parenting failures!

Really--if we impart any legacy to the next generation, or even our spouses, a liking for vegetables and fiber probably ranks right up there or higher than a trust fund.

 

 Artist Lucie Guyard's charming depiction of vegetable superheroes

Artist Lucie Guyard's charming depiction of vegetable superheroes

Why so? Because we eat way too much sugar and fiber-less processed foods. According to a recent article in The Week, "eighty percent of supermarket foods" contain sugar, including savory offerings. Check out the sugar content of that loaf of whole wheat bread you pick up. Or the yogurt. Or the cereal. 

The average American adult downs 22 teaspoons of the stuff a day, the average child 32. The World Health Organization recommends just six teaspoons a day.

One UC Davis study tried to get participants to eat a comparable amount of sugar solely through fruit (i.e., the "natural" way). The result? Four out of seven subjects had to quit because it was just way too much fruit to eat. Fruit contains loads of fiber, after all. That fiber which does wonderful things for out gut and digestion.

Anywho, I bring all this up for two reasons:

  1. The Bellevue Farmers Market Opening Day is set for Thursday, May 18. As in less than a month from now. Yippee! Fruits and vegetables galore, all at their seasonal best and grown by farmers you can talk to, from places you've heard of and can visit. And,
  2. My in-laws were visiting for Easter, and my mother-in-law has been diagnosed with dementia.

Now, no one can call dementia "Alzheimer's Disease" (AD) while the person is still alive because they can only inspect a brain post-mortem for the telltale plaques and tangles. (Other causes of dementia can often be ruled out, however.) And no one is 100% certain of all of AD's causes, but some scientists theorize that AD may actually be better termed "Diabetes 3" because of its ties to brain insulin resistance and obesity. The Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology estimates there are 24 million people with dementia worldwide, and that number is expected to double every 20 years in the future, which means we need to figure out if our diet is contributing to its rise.

That same journal article recounts a joint study done by departments of Brown University and the Rhode Island Hospital, where brains of patients with advanced AD were examined post-mortem and found them characterized by "strikingly reduced levels of insulin and IGF-1 polypeptide and receptor genes." That is, they demonstrated abnormalities typically associated with Type 1 and 2 Diabetes. This led the authors to claim AD might be also called "Type 3 Diabetes." I'll be honest--the article is very technical, and it's easier to understand when it's recapped in laymen's terms. The bottom line is, we need to cut back our sugar intake drastically and eat more vegetables.

My in-laws have not been eating well. They've been eating out, basically. A steady diet of Starbucks croissants, Subway sandwiches and Appleby's, with the occasional DQ drive-by. So when they came to visit, I was determined to ply them with fruits and vegetables. Salads, carrot and celery sticks, steamed green beans and broccoli, roasted asparagus and carrots and sweet potatoes and cauliflower. Apples at lunch, instead of chips. My father-in-law loved it all and said, "We don't get many vegetables." My mother-in-law only ate a few green beans the first day. The second day she ate half an apple but worried it might disagree with her. (It didn't.) The third day she ate broccoli and the roasted vegetables. If they weren't headed home today, who knows what I might have gotten into her! But alas, home they go, back to white flour and Subway bread, and no "vegetable" beyond lettuce shreds and potato chips.

All the evidence may not be in or agreed upon, but that doesn't mean we have to wait. People have eaten plants for thousands and thousands of years and survived, but we haven't eaten steep amounts of sugar and processed foods for more than a hundred, and things are already looking grim.

 

 Better stick to the stuffed variety of Peeps...

Better stick to the stuffed variety of Peeps...

If you're reading this post, you don't have dementia yet, so celebrate with a walk around the block, as many servings of fruits and vegetables as you can manage, and passing on the processed, sugary foods.