An increasing number of Americans are having healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, to boost their brain functions. It’s no secret that consuming green vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, and fish is linked to a lower risk of cognitive problems.
However, a recent study found that not only what food you eat, but the combination of foods, may raise or lower your risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The study published in Neurology emphasized the importance of the “food network.”
The diversity of food matters
"We found that more diversity in diet, and greater inclusion of a variety of healthy foods, are related to less dementia," said the study author Cecilia Samieri, an epidemiologist from the University of Bordeaux in France.
Samieri said that people with dementia usually consume processed meat with potatoes, while people without dementia tend to eat more diversely, combining meat with fruit, vegetables, and seafood.
Questionnaires filled by more than 600 people
To look into the differences in diets between people with and without dementia, Samieri’s group asked 209 participants with dementia and 418 without dementia to complete a food questionnaire. They collected the data of their eating habits, including what food they ate, how frequently they ate the food, etc., in the past 5 years.
The researchers then compared the diets of people with and without dementia. They found that highly processed meat was a “hub” in the food networks of people with dementia. These people tended to combine sausages and cured meat with starchy foods like potatoes, alcohol, and snacks like cookies and cakes.
Small food networks are better
Samieri pointed out that 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.”
On the contrary, people who did not have dementia were more likely to have a lot of diversity in their diet. Instead of a food network of processed meat and foods rich in carbs, these people have many small food networks consisting of fruit, vegetables, seafood, and poultry.
"In fact, we found differences in food networks that could be seen years before people with dementia were diagnosed. Our findings suggest that studying diet by looking at food networks may help untangle the complexity of diet and biology in health and disease."
If you’d like to maintain healthy brain functions but don’t want to give up delicious processed meat, try to establish more small food networks with a large diversity of foods.