According to a new study published in the journal Neurology, eating patterns rich in fruits and vegetables, moderate in nuts, fish and alcohol, and low in meat and full-fat dairy may confer significant cognitive benefits in middle age if following since early adulthood.
“Our findings indicate that maintaining good dietary practices throughout adulthood can help to preserve brain health at midlife,” said co-author on the study Claire T. McEvoy, Ph.D., of Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland.
McEvoy and colleagues analysed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which involved 2,621 patients (45% black; 57% women; mean age at baseline – 25) who followed the Mediterranean diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, or the A Priori Diet Quality Score (ADPQS) diet developed as part of the CARDIA study.
All participants were assorted into three groups based on their adherence (low, moderate, or high) to any of the three diets, and followed for 30 years. Cognitive function was tested at baseline, year 7, and year 20.
While there was no association between the DASH diet and change in cognitive performance, those with higher adherence to both the Mediterranean diet and the APDQS diet had less 5-year decline in cognitive function at midlife.
More precisely, those who followed the Mediterranean diet closely were 46% less likely to have poor cognitive function than those with low adherence, and participants who closely followed the APDQS diet were 52% less likely to run into cognitive problems as compared han their low-adhering counterparts.
Despite controlling for many factors which could affect brain function, such as level of education, smoking, diabetes, and physical activity, there could still be something the research team had missed.
One such possibility is that the DASH diet does not allow alcohol, while the other two encourage its consumption in moderate amounts.
Whatever the exact reason, “changing to a heart-healthy diet could be a relatively easy and effective way to reduce the risk for developing problems with thinking and memory as we age”, concluded McEvoy.