Researchers: Eat healthily today and enjoy brain-boosting benefits later
10/03/2019 // Melissa Smith // Views

The food you're putting in your body can influence your health today and even later in life. A study in Neurology revealed that adhering to a heart-healthy diet – one that's rich in fruits and vegetables; moderate in nuts, fish, and alcohol; and low in meat and full-fat dairy – is associated with better cognitive performance, including thinking and memory skills, later in life.

For the study, researchers from Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland examined 2,621 people who were 25 years old, on average, at the start of the study. They followed the participants for 30 years. They asked the participants about their diet at the beginning of the study, after seven years, and again after 20 years. They also examined the participants’ cognitive performance twice – when they were about 50 and 55 years old. The researchers also assessed the participants’ dietary patterns to see how closely they adhered to three heart-healthy diets: the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the A Priori Diet Quality Score (APDQS).

The DASH diet emphasizes grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, legumes, and nuts, and limits meat, fish, poultry, total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and sweets. The Mediterranean diet includes plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, legumes, fish, and nuts, and limits full-fat dairy, red meat, and poultry. Lastly, the APDQS diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, low-fat dairy, moderate alcohol, and restricts fried foods, high-fat dairy, salty snacks, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. For every diet, the researchers divided the participants into one of three groups – low, medium, or high – based on their adherence to the diet.


Results showed that the participants who adhered to a Mediterranean diet or the APDQS diet experienced less cognitive decline in midlife, while the DASH diet did not affect cognitive function. Participants who had the closest dietary pattern to the Mediterranean diet were 46 percent more likely to have better cognitive performance than those with the least adherence to the diet. In addition, those with high adherence to the APDQS diet were 52 percent more likely to have better thinking and memory than those with low adherence to the diet. The researchers adjusted the results for other factors that could affect cognitive function, such as educational attainment, diabetes, smoking, and physical activity.

The researchers failed to determine why the DASH diet did not lead to better cognitive function. They also noted that while more studies are needed to establish the ideal dietary pattern for brain health, following a heart-healthy diet could be a relatively easy and effective strategy to lower your risk of cognitive decline as you age.

Boost your brain function by combining a healthy diet, social life, and physical and mental exercises

A healthy diet, regular exercise, mental exercise, and socialization may each be beneficial to your brain. A study called the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) suggested that doing all these will not only prevent cognitive decline, but also improve your reasoning skills and mental task performance.

The researchers of the FINGER study recruited 1,260 participants age 60 to 77 to examine the effects of lifestyle interventions on preserving brain function. Although all participants had a few risk factors for developing cognitive decline, they scored in the normal range on mental function tests.

The participants were randomly divided into two groups. One group received personal nutritional counseling, exercise instruction from physical therapists, and cognitive training. They also too seven medical exams and often met in groups for cooking classes, cognitive training, or exercise instruction. The other group, which served as the control, had three medical exams and received general health advice. At the end of the study, they took brain tests again.

The researchers found that those who followed all four practices – a healthy diet, regular exercise, mental exercise, and socialization – scored higher on organization, reasoning, and processing speed tests. (Related: 7 simple health tips for protecting your brain and cognitive function.)

Learn more ways on how to preserve your cognitive function as you age at

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