Eating is Tough for Those with Alzheimer’s

It’s highly likely that you know someone who has or is suffering with Alzheimer’s disease; it’s the most common type of dementia. Four million Americans have the disease; most are over 65. The loss of mental function has a direct bearing on the nutrition of the individual who has the disease.

In early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may be able to feed himself but cannot eat in a setting that’s not familiar. In this situation, verbal cues are important for reassurance, so that proper nutrition is maintained.

As the disease progresses, however, the issues become more serious. Loved ones may forget how to perform certain functions relevant to eating, such as how to hold silverware, how to chew, when to swallow – all of which can mandate the need for mealtime coaching. In its final stages, Alzheimer’s robs our family members of the ability to swallow, and with less consumption of food, there can be, of course, a serious lack of nutrients for the body.

Nutritionists don’t have a set plan as we follow individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Certain things can be more helpful, such as incorporating finger foods, to prolong independent eating. Therapeutic diets relevant to other chronic diseases are usually considered, because dietary intake is key: weight loss and low body weight are predictors of morbidity.

Offering his or her favorite foods and a variety of textures and flavors decreases the likelihood of “food fatigue.” At all times, and through all dietary challenges, the family member’s dignity must also be considered. Without dignity, the will suffers, and willpower is key to survival.

Victims of Alzheimer’s also build intolerance to change; new routines are hard on them, as are new environments. If your loved one has been transferred to a hospital or assisted living facility, then is when they will especially be prone to higher frustration levels over diminishing ability to perform simple tasks. A formerly simple act, such as opening a container or carton, can create rage in a new setting, so mealtimes are particularly treacherous during and after a transition.

In this situation, refusal to eat can actually be stemming from frustration over packaging or mechanics, without it being verbalized that way. Unfortunately, 75 percent of those with Alzheimer’s are admitted to resident care facilities within five years of diagnosis, so the gauntlet of a new environment is hard to avoid.

There are a couple of nutrition-related myths surrounding Alzheimer’s. One has been hanging on since the 1960s, when it was suspected that drinking from aluminum cans could lead to the disease. While experts have failed to find any evidence that this is true, the resulting “fear of aluminum” spread, and people have wondered about the safety of aluminum pots and pans, antacids and even antiperspirants.

Again, no evidence has been presented which justifies these fears, although as a registered dietitian and nutritionist I would prefer you drink nearly anything other than sodas, which are nutritionally devoid and can have high sugar levels.

The thought of diet sodas leads me to the second Alzheimer’s myth: that Aspartame causes memory loss. While all sorts of health concerns have come up about the artificial sweetener found in Equal and NutraSweet, the FDA’s findings – based on experiments by 100 clinical studies – find no evidence of an Alzheimer’s connection.

The subject of sugars and sweeteners is one I’ll save for another day.

Eliminate Triggers to Manage Migraine Headaches

Migraines are the tsunamis of headaches. Commonly described as “the worst headaches ever,” migraines can be managed, to a degree, with nutrition, but their cause is still being studied.

Fat-laden diets, medications, skipped meals, extremes in food temperatures and consuming large quantities of headache-risky foods have all been known to trigger migraines. Unfortunately, so have bright lights, weather, smoke, stress, menstruation, estrogen levels and physical activity.

Migraines are a painful puzzle three times more likely to affect women, and they run in families. If you know you’re susceptible, you may have learned that trigger foods can be more dangerous when combined with other triggers, and a headache can result hours or even days after a trigger food is ingested. You might do well to keep a food diary for a month, and look for your own patterns.

In the meantime, let’s look at what foods lessen the likelihood of an onset of a migraine, as well as what to ingest should you fall prey. Most experts agree on the triggers, so you’ve got a good starting point for migraine management. Picture migraines as the bull, intent on hurting you. A few specific foods can act as red capes, egging him to roar toward you with mal intent.

The first suspect is chocolate. Chocolate contains the nonessential amino acid tyramine, which also makes the list. Tyramine is thought to trigger headaches because it reduces serotonin levels in the brain, which affects blood vessel dilation. Because women crave chocolate during menstruation and hormonal changes, it is doubly suspect.

Chocolate is also intimately connected to stress, another trigger. Property values, visiting relatives, work deadlines and teens with attitudes can have us all reaching for a big slab of Hershey’s finest. Rethink this if you suffer from migraines, at least on a three-month trial basis.

Tyramine is produced when the amino acid tyrosine breaks down. Aging, fermenting or storing foods increases their tyramine levels. So aged cheese, cured meats, sauerkraut, fermented soy products and yeast all contain tyramine.

What you might never guess is where tyramine also hides: in fava beans, lentils, avocados, citrus, overripe bananas, nuts, peanut butter, seeds, pork and venison, bouillon cubes, canned soups and meat tenderizers.

Scientists thought that red wine was a trigger because of its tyramine levels, but now they suspect phytochemicals called phenols act as the trigger in vino rosso. Because alcoholic beverages of all kinds can trigger an attack, they add fuel to the serotonin-depletion argument.

Remembering that serotonin is called the happy hormone may inspire you to avoid things which deplete it, or at least consider doing them in moderation. Consuming large quantities of trigger foods or beverages is risky for sufferers, whereas they might “get away” with small indulgences.

Ingesting too much caffeine is another suspect trigger, but to underscore how confusing migraines are to scientists, some claim that too little caffeine can also cause problems. With the abundance of tasty decaffeinated drinks on the market, eliminating caffeine is logistically easy, if not physically. A registered dietitian can help you find supplements that will increase your energy levels and make up for that jolt upon which you’ve relied.

Lastly, food additives such as nitrites, nitrates and MSG (monosodium glutamate), are considered common migraine triggers, by increasing blood flow to the brain.

I hope, of course, that this column finds you pain-free and fully enjoying the southwest Florida lifestyle.

— Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition in Florida. Hastings can be contacted at or by visiting Follow @ElaineHastings on Twitter for daily nutrition tips.

Kitchen Wall Color has Diet Impact

Your kitchen is the center of your nutritional hub. It’s where you make your decisions on how (and how often) to fuel your own body, and the bodies of others you may be responsible for feeding. For some of you, it’s also the place where meals are served and consumed: at a bar or island, for example, or a casual kitchen table.

You’ve already taken control of what goes in your refrigerator; now summer’s your chance to take control of the mood your kitchen sets. Believe it or not, the color of your kitchen walls can have an impact on your diet. Perhaps it’s time to evaluate how you want your kitchen to make you feel, and seize the day.

First of all, there’s a reason that McDonald’s, Burger King and every fast food restaurant known to man incorporates red and yellow in their logos and décor. Want to guess why?

Let’s start with yellow. This cheery hue is good for optimism and hope. But it also stimulates the appetite, pure and simple. You just thought you wanted a salad … now you want a Big Mac with fries.

Yellow is happy, but to overweight people, it can also be a tad dangerous when applied to kitchen walls. Better to let a good workout stimulate the appetite than the mere presence of a color. Unless, of course, you are underweight.

Need to beef up? Head for the yellow section of the paint store and slather it on. Think butter, egg yolks, lemons … mmm, I’m getting hungry already. But yellow helps the memory, so it could be useful if mom’s not available for a recipe consult.

Orange stimulates learning. If you’re a new cook, or aspiring chef or nutritionist, opt for orange.

As for red, it is a complex color, perhaps the most of all. Red engages us and brings out our emotions. Here’s the amazing thing about this color: to calm people, it is exciting, in a good way, a little thrilling. But for folks who are more anxious in nature, red is disturbing. The last thing you want is to be disturbed eight to 12 times a day, so be honest with yourself about your nature, and that of others with whom you may live.

Red walls trigger the release of adrenaline (which can be good for cooking, I suppose). And like yellow, it also stimulates the appetite, while simultaneously stimulating the sense of smell. Red walls can also increase your blood pressure and breathing rate.

Blue is opposite of yellow, on the color wheel, and in terms of appetite. It decreases blood pressure, the breathing rate, and the desire to eat, as do indigo and violet. So if you’re determined to drop 20, 30, even 40 pounds … coat your walls in hues of blueberries, grapes or plums. This will also remind you to eat antioxidants, which is a good thing. You win on two counts!

Pink is also proven as a winning weight-control color, at none other than prestigious Johns Hopkins Medical University in Baltimore.

Violet is known for its ability to create balance. So as you’re planning your menus or dishing out portions of lean protein, fresh veggies and multigrain bread, look to your walls for inspiration. (Violet is also good for migraine sufferers).

This brings us to green, the color of all things fresh and good for our bodies. Green is relaxing, and also creates a sense of balance. It relaxes the body, and helps those who suffer from nervousness, anxiety or depression. Green may also aid in raising blood histamine levels, reducing sensitivity to food allergies. Antigens may also be stimulated by green, for overall better immune system healing.

Placing your sunlit fresh herbs near a green wall brings the outdoors in. That might also make you think about starting a garden, going for a walk or run, or cycling around the neighborhood.

Brown enhances a feeling of security, reduces fatigue and is relaxing. Black is a power color. If you have six-packs and you know it, raise your hand. Gray is the most neutral of all colors for the kitchen: not much happening there. Brighter hues inspire creativity and energy, while darker colors are peaceful and lower stress. Beige and off-white are “learning” colors.

Make good choices, on your walls, as well as your plate. What color should your kitchen be?

Article makes American Dietetic Association newswire…Nutrition: RD credentials signify specialized training

Posted September 8th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in In The News

My latest News-Press article made the ADA’s news service!  Be sure to read  the article below on the significance of RD credentials. You can also link to the ADA’s Web site at They have the very latest news on food and nutrition. With so much information on the Web, it’s important to find credible sources. The ADA is a valuable resource for both health care professionals and consumers.

There is so much emphasis on the importance of food and nutrition that it is understandable why consumers may be confused. Who are you getting your nutrition advice from? Your gym? Magazines? A weight-loss program? The Web?

All of these sources can offer valuable information; however, you need to know that some of the advice you will receive from them is not necessarily accurate. New diet recommendations constantly emerge, making it sometimes difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. You should be especially careful if anyone offers you quick fixes that seem too good to be true.

If you are confused about the science of nutrition and weight loss, or have been receiving conflicting advice and not seeing the results you want, consider making an appointment with a registered dietitian, a specialist in the study of nutrition, who can assist you with planning a diet to promote a healthy lifestyle.

Certified by the state, RDs undertake the practical application of nutrition to prevent nutrition-related problems.

They are also involved in the diagnoses and dietary treatment of disease.

Dietitians in many settings work with people who have special dietary needs, inform the general public about nutrition, give unbiased advice, evaluate and improve treatments and educate clients, doctors, nurses, health professionals and community groups.

Sometimes, RDs will refer to themselves as “nutritionists,” because it is a term the public is familiar with. However, not all “nutritionists” are necessarily RDs.

Make sure the person you choose to see has RD credentials to ensure that person has received the necessary specialized accredited training.

That training includes classes in food and nutrition sciences, food service systems management, business, economics, computer science, culinary arts, sociology, chemistry, communications, education, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pharmacology and psychology.

To make the transition from dietitian to RD requires the completion of an internship and the successful passing of a national board exam.

Why should you consider a dietitian instead of relying on the trainers at your local gym or your monthly fitness magazine? Dietitians have special skills in translating scientific and medical decisions related to food and health to inform the general public. They also play an important role in health promotion.

A dietitian will work with your doctor to assist you in fine-tuning your medications, meals and exercise requirements. Dietitians also will be able to assist you with reading food labels, and provide cooking and grocery tips.

Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian of Associates in Nutrition and Sports Specialty in Florida. She has been practicing for 18 years and was recently named president of the Southwest Florida Dietetic Association. A “nutrition entrepreneur,” she works contractually and is also a writer, motivational speaker, product researcher, counselor, sports-nutritionist and eating disorder advocate. Continue to read her series on Tuesdays. You can contact Elaine at, Email her at

Fit in fun on Friday

Posted September 4th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Fit In Fitness Friday

It’s Labor Day weekend so it’s time to enjoy parties, food and fun but be sure to fit fitness into your holiday weekend plans.

Here are some ideas:

-Take a family walk around your community or local park.
-Hit the beach for a swim. Remember to wear sunscreen!
-Enjoy a Labor Day weekend swim party with friends and family!

Exercise is more fun when you involve your friends and family!