Certain Food Pairings May Contribute To Dementia Risk

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."
Overhead of a Dinner Table, Hands Reaching in to Cheers Their Glasses

Recent research has solidified the fact that exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, and eating lots of fruits and veggies can boost brain health and cognition in a big way. And a new study, published in Neurology, proposes one more habit that might help reduce your risk of dementia: balancing out the types of foods on your plate.

To see how different food pairings, or "food networks" as they're referred to in the study, influenced dementia risk, researchers studied 627 older adults—their average age was 78—over the course of five years. At the beginning of the study, all participants were asked to record which types of foods they typically ate. From there, researchers could discern what foods participants often ate together and monitor the effect that those food pairings seem to have on their cognitive health down the line.

"A number of studies have shown that eating a healthier diet, for example a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains and fish, may lower a person's risk of dementia. Many of those studies focused on quantity and frequency of foods," study author Cécilia Samieri, Ph.D., writes in a news release. "Our study went one step further to look at food networks and found important differences in the ways in which food items were co-consumed in people who went on to develop dementia and those who did not."

The results showed that people who developed dementia paired their food in a "substantially" different way than those didn't.

Bad news for bacon breakfast sandwich lovers: The pairing that seemed most likely to contribute to dementia risk was processed meats and starchy foods like potatoes or snacks like cookies and cakes. Those who ate the same amount of meat but paired it with healthier sides like fruits and vegetables seemed to be better off for it.

"This may suggest that frequency with which processed meat is combined with other unhealthy foods, rather than average quantity, may be important for dementia risk," writes Samieri.

The study setup wasn't perfect: It assumed that all participants remembered and accurately reported their food habits and that these habits stayed consistent over time. But its conclusions aren't hard to believe: When it comes to brain health, eating a mix of proteins, plants, and healthy carbs (looking at you, Mediterranean and MIND diets) really is a wise move.

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