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A Lack of Access to Fresh, Healthy Foods May Destroy Your Mind as Well as Your Body

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It is widely known that a lack of access to fresh, healthy foods can contribute to poor diets and higher levels of diet-related diseases. In the case of brain health, we know that everyone who has a brain is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, with the greatest risk factors being aging and genetics.

But there is growing evidence that other risk factors may also result in declining brain health. The lack of a healthy diet increases the likelihood of chronic medical conditions like hypertension, obesity and diabetes, and these diseases increase the likelihood of cognitive impairment.

Nearly half (45 percent) of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease; and more than 1 in 4 Americans have multiple chronic conditions. For many of these health conditions, black people have higher risk factors, occurrences, morbidity and mortality rates than whites.

As the nation’s population ages, we should stop viewing chronic disease as simply a normal part of growing older. Our environment influences our health. In my role as leader of the National Working Group on Food & Health Equity at the Food Trust, a nonprofit organization working to increase access to healthy and affordable foods, I’m particularly interested in reducing racial and ethnic health disparities and focusing on understanding how other social factors intersect with food and influence our health.

Evidence shows that a diet rich in vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, is associated with better health and a reduced rate of cognitive decline. Studies(pdf) also show that people who ate a Mediterranean diet (fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil) had a 28 percent lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, and a 48 percent lower risk of such impairment progressing to actual Alzheimer’s disease.

Simply put, the better the food a person eats, the lower his or her risk for diet-related chronic diseases and the increased likelihood for a healthy brain. And conversely, a diet consisting of unhealthy foods can be detrimental not only to our physical health but also to our cognitive health.

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SOURCE: The Root
Dwayne Wharton