Mag­gie Beer’s cru­sade to com­bat Alzheimer’s dis­ease

Mag­gie Beer fiercely be­lieves that good food can dra­mat­i­cally im­prove our qual­ity of life – par­tic­u­larly as we age. Now, writes Genevieve Gan­non, the much-loved cook is team­ing up with a lead­ing ex­pert to com­bat Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

The name Mag­gie Beer con­jures up vi­sions of fat, blush­ing toma­toes, rich vanilla bean ice-cream and golden pheas­ant pie. The beloved cook’s per­sonal food phi­los­o­phy is that noth­ing should be left off the ta­ble and food must bring plea­sure. She loves to in­dulge and con­fides she can’t keep peanut but­ter in the house. “I love it. I’m as weak as a kit­ten with it,” she says.

So when you think of Mag­gie Beer’s culi­nary legacy, health food doesn’t ex­actly spring to mind. Yet that’s just what the 72-year-old’s lat­est book is: 200 recipes geared to sup­port brain health and fight Alzheimer’s with a bat­tery of nu­tri­en­trich in­gre­di­ents.

Of course, when Mag­gie does health, she does it the Mag­gie Beer way. “There’s room for ev­ery­thing,” she says. The im­por­tance is bal­ance.

Even though her culi­nary ca­reer is far from over, Mag­gie feels she is com­ing full cir­cle. With her lat­est en­deav­our she is gal­vanis­ing ev­ery­thing she has al­ways in­tu­ited about food, but didn’t re­ally think about un­til a chance meet­ing with lead­ing health ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Ralph Martins in 2010.

“When I grew up in Syd­ney, it was a time when there was no such thing as pro­cessed foods. I came from a food fam­ily where it was all about cook­ing and us­ing ev­ery part of the an­i­mal,” she says.

“I’d cer­tainly never thought about it. Yet I’ve been lucky enough to live it to a great ex­tent.”

She first con­tem­plated the con­nec­tion between food and brain health in the 1970s while try­ing

to wran­gle a “se­verely hy­per­ac­tive child”.

“I found from a very cluey doc­tor that preser­va­tives were the big­gest no-no,” she says. “So I had that ground­ing, but I never thought about it un­til meet­ing Ralph and learning so much more about the pri­or­i­ties of the food.”

Mag­gie has al­ways been an ad­vo­cate of us­ing veg­eta­bles fresh from the gar­den. But meet­ing Pro­fes­sor Martins prompted her to think about the way food fu­els our body, and can pro­tect us from dis­ease. The pair were seated next to each other at an awards cer­e­mony in 2010. The con­ver­sa­tion quickly turned to food – and they soon be­came firm friends.

For more than 30 years, Pro­fes­sor Martins has been work­ing to iden­tify spe­cific nu­tri­tional and lifestyle fac­tors as­so­ci­ated with avoid­ing cog­ni­tive de­cline. Reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, men­tal stim­u­la­tion and a healthy diet with sea­sonal fruits and veg­eta­bles, fish, fats and dairy are key. In­sulin re­sis­tance, obe­sity, high blood pres­sure and high choles­terol are risk fac­tors for Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Mag­gie’s lat­est book, co-au­thored with Pro­fes­sor Martins and ti­tled Mag­gie’s Recipes for Life, mar­ries her two pas­sions of food and im­prov­ing the lives of the el­derly through bet­ter nu­tri­tion.

“As we age, we need to take more care of our bodies and our brains and our ner­vous sys­tem,” Mag­gie says.

“I be­lieve from my own life, but I be­lieve more from Ralph’s sci­ence, that diet and lifestyle is the most ef­fec­tive way of do­ing this.”

Around the time that Pro­fes­sor Martins’ re­search was open­ing her eyes to this new way of think­ing about food as fuel, Mag­gie needed surgery. It took her time to re­cover and, nat­u­rally, she lost weight. She also started to ex­er­cise more, and found it was eas­ier for her to say no to those ex­tra in­dul­gences, such as the midweek glass of wine.

“I’ve stepped back and re­assessed the im­por­tance of my choices,” Mag­gie writes in her book. “I now think more deeply about how of­ten or how much I eat cer­tain food.”

This ethos is not just for older peo­ple. “This is about giv­ing ev­ery­one their best chance. And I hope I’ve given my fam­ily their best chance, but it could have been bet­ter,” Mag­gie says.

Pro­fes­sor Martins says that even peo­ple with a ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion to an in­creased Alzheimer’s risk can de­lay the on­set of cog­ni­tive de­cline with a good diet.

“It’s about flavour and tex­ture and bal­ance,” Mag­gie ex­plains. “It’s been eas­ier for me, I guess, be­cause

I cook ev­ery­thing from scratch and al­ways have. But it’s within every­body’s grasp.”

Along with “ev­ery bright coloured plant”, an­tiox­i­dant-packed pars­ley, pump­kin, ku­mara, mango and pa­payas, she also em­braces choco­late, so long as it is at least 70 per cent, and pasta, par­tic­u­larly spelt or whole­meal.

“We look for the best use of it. It’s about beau­ti­ful food

that will give us

As we age, we need to take more care of our brains.

plea­sure. It’s a lifestyle,” Mag­gie says. “There’s no way I’m go­ing to take sugar to­tally out of my diet, but it’s an in­dul­gence.”

When she catches up with The Australian Women’s Weekly to dis­cuss her lat­est project, she has a lin­ger­ing cough af­ter bat­tling a bout of the flu. She says when she was ill she wasn’t fol­low­ing ev­ery­thing she knows about nu­tri­tion. “I didn’t feel like eat­ing,” she ad­mits, in a con­fes­sional tone. “I wasn’t eat­ing enough pro­tein to give my­self en­ergy to get over the flu.” Her hus­band, Colin, and daugh­ters, Saskia and Elli, were mak­ing chicken soup. For­tu­nately, she is on the mend. “I have as much en­ergy as I did 20 years ago.”

“When I grew up, there was no such thing as pro­cessed food,” Mag­gie says.

Mag­gie has co-au­thored her new book with lead­ing Alzheimer’s ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Ralph Martins.

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