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Food Combinations May Affect Brain Health

Which items we eat together may lower—or raise—our risk for dementia.

Food and brain health

In recent years, it’s become clear that a diet full of nuts, leafy vegetables, seafood and other nutrient-dense edibles can do the brain some good. Now, a study has uncovered evidence that it’s not just what we eat, but how we combine foods into a “food network,” that may influence our brain health as we age.

A study reported in Neurology asked older adults to complete a survey detailing foods they had eaten over the past year. Five years later—with medical checkups in between—the subjects were evaluated again. Those without dementia were more likely to have accompanied their meat intake with more diverse, healthier foods, including fruit, vegetables and seafood. Those with dementia were more likely to have paired processed meat products such as deli meats with packaged snacks like cookies, starchy items like potatoes, and alcohol. Overall, those with dementia placed less emphasis on eating a diversity of healthier foods.

As with most nutrition studies, relying on subjects’ accurate recall of diet habits via questionnaire versus controlled monitoring is a limiting factor. However, the findings lend more support to the notion that nutrition is a modifiable risk factor in relation to brain health and that variety is the spice of life.

See also: Your Brain on Food


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Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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