Alzheimer’s Prevention Part 4 – Nutrition Status
Here is the deal! There are 27 vitamins and minerals, 10 amino acids (from protein), and 2 fatty acids (from fat) that are essential, non-optional, nutrients that you must get in your food! Have you heard of those?
Maybe and maybe not but, either way, you just have one question. How the heck do you get them in your food, even when you are convinced that you should? Even if sometimes, in a quiet moment when maybe you can’t sleep, you worry about the long term potential of Alzheimer’s in your life.
How is a person living a normal life, producing and caring for children, working, and dealing with daily crises supposed to know how to maintain a good nutrition status? Does that mean you must know what nutrients are in every single possible food? Does that mean you have to stay up nights with a spreadsheet combining just the right foods together for your family’s meals? No. It is really remarkably simple as you will see the later.
The most important question is, what happens if you don’t get all those nutritional elements?
Nutrient Deficiency Makes People Sick
Back in the very old days before chronic illnesses like diabetes, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, big time autoimmune diseases like lupus, arthritis, fibromyalgia etc. were on the forefront of everyone’s minds, the general population had no clue about all those essential nutritional elements. So right off the bat, know you are not alone.
In fact, in less than 100 years (well before the actual existence of spreadsheets) all the vitamins were scientifically “discovered,” usually as the result of trying to ferret out the cause of some illness. Vitamin c and scurvy among sailors is a good example.
Discovering an element is one thing. Figuring out exactly why it’s needed, what the body does with it, and how its absence can make you sick is entirely different. The vitamins in the B series used to be considered to be just one vitamin until research found there was more to the story. Those discoveries took (and continue to take) a lot of time and money. What’s important to remember is that the existence and importance of most if not all those elements were discovered because people got sick. The message? The absence of essential nutrients makes people sick.
So what’s the difference between those folks in the old days and us? Diet is a primary difference.
Diet Is the Difference
Your ancestors ate animals that got their food from the woods and the fields, nature’s garden. Their fats were butter, cream, and fat produced by and on the animals. They ground their own grains to make bread when grain was available. They ate vegetables and fruit seasonally growing in the wild or a garden. Granulated sugar (the history of which is long and fascinating) was obtainable but rarely available for the rank and file.
We, on the other hand, often eat animals that are fed something other than their natural preference. For example, cows in commercial feed lots are typically fed grain but their stomachs are only designed to digest grass. Are you surprised that makes cows sick?
Sacks of sugar and flour (flour is ground-up grain) line the shelves in the grocery store. Commercially created “vegetable” oils (which are actually seed and bean oils) are the common oils (fats). The proliferation of chips at the store is made from a grain and commercial oils. Non-starchy vegetables make up a very small percentage of the American diet.
The Story of Starch and Sugar
Are you seeing the prevalence of grain and sugar? Indeed, this is a story of starch and sugar. All grain (which includes corn) and beans are starch, a concentrated source of sugar with, in fact, very little natural fat. Intense commercial processing is required to extract what little fat there is, turning it into a bottle of oil on the grocery shelf.
America’s favorite vegetable is the lowly potato (also a starch and the other favorite chip on the shelf) available 12 months out of the year and fried in commercial oils, most often in restaurants. We have pretty much traded off seasonal vegetables and fruits for commercially processed “food” also containing the commercial vegetable oils mentioned above. And then commercial producers throw in some extra sugar for good measure.
So how nutritious are these vast amounts of food manufactured from starch and sugar?
How Nutritious are Sugar and Grain?
Everybody knows there is absolutely no nutrition in sugar. So let’s just look at Durham wheat, the grain most commonly used in making flour, the flour mixed up with sugar for baked goods like bread, cakes, pie crusts, cookies, etc. The flour used to make pasta/noodles and breading on fried food. So does wheat (or any grain) have value or is it inherently bad?
The kernel of any grain (which is technically a seed) has three layers: bran, germ, and endosperm. There are 16 vitamins and minerals plus fiber in the bran and germ of Durham wheat. These two layers are removed when making refined white flour, leaving only the protein and starch (sugar) of the endosperm. “Refined” means they chemically added a few but not many nutrients back in.
Refined grain contributes almost nothing nutritionally. Whole grain is not inherently bad unless it is the predominance of your diet; it’s not the grain but the absence of everything else that is a real problem.
Are You Nutrient Deficient?
With only a couple of exceptions, all of the essential nutrients are available in either meat or plants. A diet that includes meat and meat products such as eggs, healthy fats, and a variety of vegetables/fruits in some configuration or another suggests you are getting your nutrients and helping to protect yourself from Alzheimer’s and other chronic conditions. But if your diet contains all the trade-offs, very few vegetables or fruit, bread and other processed foods, baked goods, sugar, pasta and noodles, vegetable oils, etc. then you can be sure you are nutrient deficient.
The point of this series is the possible prevention of Alzheimer’s. The message is that the absence of those essential nutrients makes people sick. Look forward to part 5 to see how nutrient deficiency contributes to high blood sugar and insulin, both important to manage in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. She is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry), and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.