Can’t remember the last healthy food you ate? Well, the fact that you haven’t had a healthy meal in a while could be to blame.
According to new research published in the journal Neurology, a healthy diet may be beneficial in decreasing the risk of cognitive decline, particularly memory loss.
"This study strengthens the support for the overall idea that eating a balanced diet may be beneficial to reduce your risk of cognitive decline," Dr. Heather Snyder, Director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer's Association, who was not involved in this new study, told CNN. "However, there are many aspects of diet in combination with engaging in a healthy lifestyle that may influence cognitive decline."
The new study didn’t ask participants to eat a specific type of diet or focus on any key foods. "We just wanted to look at a diverse cohort of people from all around the world and analyze what their risk for cognitive decline would be if they consumed what most organizations would consider a 'healthy diet'," Dr. Andrew Smyth, lead author of the study and a nephrologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario Canada, told CNN.
A ‘healthy diet’ is about as unclear a term as the word ‘natural’ these days. For some, it can mean counting calories and drinking diet sodas, but for others, it can mean fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade meals. The study authors loosely defined “healthy diet” as one “containing lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, moderate alcohol use and minimal red meat.”
Over the course of nearly five years, the researchers monitored eating habits of more than 27,000 men and women in 40 countries. Taking regional cuisine variations into consideration, the subjects were asked about the serving sizes of different food types that are considered both healthy and unhealthy.
"For example, if participants consumed the standard dietary recommendations for fruits and vegetables per day, they would get a high score in that category. The reverse happens for unhealthy food choices," said Smyth.
Thinking and memory skills of the participants were tested at the study onset and again at the two-year mark and again at five years.
“The results indicate that participants with the healthiest diets were 24% less likely to experience cognitive decline compared to those with the least healthy diets,” reports CNN. “These individuals were slightly older in age, more active, less likely to smoke and had a lower BMI.”
"We were interested in looking at this particular group who have a high risk for cardiovascular disease because they are also going to have a high risk of cognitive decline," said Smyth.
While the research is fairly comprehensive, it may not come as a surprise to anyone who’s traded in burgers and fries for kale and quinoa—healthier foods make a healthier body and the brain and its many functions is clearly not immune to those benefits.
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