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A Red Pepper and Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease

Growing up I had a cherished aunt who lived as an artist in the south of France. I loved her work. She had fascinating objects in her still life arrangements that repeated themselves throughout her paintings. One of those objects was a vibrant red pepper. I have one of her paintings that includes, you guessed it, a red pepper. Her red peppers somehow inspire me, possibly because they are a brilliant shiny red, sport a bright green stem and a soft curvy shape. Their crisp sweet pepper flavor is a bright culinary ingredient. Served raw, they’re a perfect quick snack. I always keep one in my refrigerator as a tribute to my aunt, but more importantly as a tribute to the healthy diet she followed. She lived into her eighties with a healthy mind and physical vigor that I attribute to her love of the fresh fruits and vegetables she bought from her village market and then prepared in her small, simple kitchen.

Aging with a healthy mind and physical vigor is a blessing. One of the greatest fears as we age through life is losing our ability to think and be. Every little slip of memory makes us wonder if there is a kind of creeping dementia beginning, or heaven forbid, maybe Alzheimer’s disease that cruelly steals personality, moments and memories. While Alzheimer’s is irreversible, there is compelling research pointing to a plant-based diet as an influencing factor in preventing many cases of Alzheimer’s by promoting brain health and overall health. By combining diet with getting enough sleep, being physically active, not smoking and actively learning new skills, we can give our brain and bodies the best of care.

This same diet along with a healthy life style can prevent overweight and obesity that contribute to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Studies show these diseases contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s.

Nutrition and its effect on brain health is somewhat complex, but the foods we should eat are simple and straight forward. They are easily served fresh or simply prepared. Dietitian-nutritionists, Sue Linja and SeAnne Safafii-Waite in their book, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Food Guide, beautifully outline what Alzheimer’s is and define a simple approach to a healthy diet. They profile more than 100 “brain foods” noting benefits of each as well as herbs and spices that lend culinary uniqueness and their own health benefits.

They define “brain foods” by category. Chances are you will find your favorites in their book plus new ones to try.

  • Herbs and spices
  • Leafy greens
  • Other vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Oils
  • Proteins
  • Fermented Foods and Others

One of the most of the most practical chapters offers two weeks of sample daily menus to get you started. Linja and Safaii-Waite are researchers passionately exploring how nutrition and lifestyle promote healthy aging and longevity. They invite us to join their journey “to marry nutrition science and optimism in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Back to the red pepper. While a red pepper by itself doesn’t preserve a healthy mind or prevent disease, it is on the “brain foods” list and is my symbol of a diet rich in plant based foods. Besides, a red pepper is always bright spot in the fridge.

Roasted Red Peppers
This recipe is super easy and uses three of the 100 “brain foods”.

Place two (or any number) red peppers directly on your hot grill. As the skin blackens turn each pepper until all sides are blacken. Remove and place in a paper bag or covered container until peppers are cool. Remove outer burned skin to reveal red pepper underneath. Slice into desired size. Scrape away seeds. Lay flat in a container. Cover with olive oil. Scatter with cloves of garlic. Lightly salt with coarse salt. Cover. Refrigerate to allow peppers to marinate about 8 hours or overnight. Serve on salads, as part of a bruschetta or an antipasto platter. Note: Instead of a grill, peppers can be placed under a broiler to blacken.

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

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