Healthy Eating May Sheild the Brain

July 13, 2015

Earlier this year the journal of Neurology published a study finding a link between healthy eating habits and a lower risk of dementia. "Healthy Eating and Reduced Risk of Cognitive Decline" found that those who have a diet full of fruits and veggie can preserve more of their thinking skills and memory.

The researchers studied a large sample of around 28,000 older adults from 40 countries. The older adults who were judged to be in the top 20 percent on a healthy eating scale were much less likely to have declines in attention, memory, and other mental skills over the following five years.

The older adults who preferred red meat and sweets, their risk of mental decline was almost one quarter lower. The people with the healthiest diet, 14 percent showed declines in thriller thinking, compared to 18 percent of those older adults with the least nutritious diets.

Healthy Diet FoodAlthough lead researcher Andrew Smyth, a fellow at McMaster University, reminds us that their study does not prove that diet itself preserves your cognitive health. Smyth highlights that their may be other factors involved in the relationship. Such as those subjects with healthy diets were more likely to be educated, thinner, get more exercise and less likely to smoke. With all of these factors considered, Smyth says that “our study suggests that healthy eating may reduce the risk of cognitive decline” .


So, what did the researchers consider a healthy diet?

Smyth’s “healthy eating” index ranked a diet full of healthy choices (fruits and vegetables) higher than a diet based on fried foods. Although their healthy eating index provided a scale based off of nutritional choices, what does the optimal cognitive brain diet consist of?

Christy Tangney, a professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University, has found that seniors who stuck to a MIND diet had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The MIND diet is basically a mix of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both the DASH and Mediterranean diets have been found to earn off stroke and heart disease.

Tangney’s MIND diet emphasizes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, poultry and fish. The diet also discourages red meat, butter, cheese, sweets, and fried foods.

Watching what you eat will obviously have numerous benefits for your long term physical and cognitive health. But why do the healthier foods at the top of the “healthy eating index” and the MIND diet preserve the brain’s memory as you age?

Smyth’s team thinks that possibly the anti-inflammatory nutrients in foods like vegetables, fruits, and fish help preserve your brain’s function. Also, what is good for your heart is often good for your brain, by improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, or possibly staving off subtle “covert” strokes. Tangney adds that the Mediterranean and DASH diets are proven to benefit cardiovascular health. “There are foods common to both that can help protect you against heart disease and stroke - and potentially cognitive decline”.

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