A new study has shown that eating a heart-healthy diet is linked to better memory and thinking performance in middle age.
The heart-healthy diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, moderate in nuts, fish, and alcohol and low in meat and full-fat dairy.
The research was done by researchers from Queen’s University.
The researchers examined 2,621 people who were an average age of 25 at the start of the research. The team followed the participants for 30 years.
The participants reported their diet habits at the beginning of the study and again seven and 20 years later. Their cognitive functions were tested when they were 50 and 55 years old.
The team examined if each participant’s diet pattern was similar to one of the three heart-healthy diets:
The Mediterranean diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and diet quality score designed in the current the study called the CARDIA a priori Diet Quality Score, or APDQS.
The Mediterranean diet is high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy unsaturated fats, nuts, legumes and fish and low in red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy.
The DASH diet is high in grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, legumes and nuts and low in meat, fish, poultry, total fat, saturated fat, sweets, and sodium.
The APDQS diet is high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy, fish, moderate in alcohol, and low in fried foods, salty snacks, sweets, high-fat dairy, and sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
The researchers found people who followed the Mediterranean diet and the APDQS diet had a less 5-year decline in their memory and thinking abilities at middle-age.
Moreover, people who ate the Mediterranean diet most were 46% less likely to have poor thinking skills than people ate the diet least.
People who ate the APDQS diet most were 52% less likely to have poor thinking skills than people ate the diet least.
But this brain-boosting effect was not found in people who ate the DASH diet.
The team explains that one possibility is that DASH does not consider moderate alcohol. It also does not emphasize fish intake, which is high in omega-3 and may protect brain functions.
The results suggest that keeping good eating habits throughout adulthood can help boost brain health at midlife.
Although it is hard to find an ideal diet for brain health, eating a heart-healthy diet could be an easy and effective way to reduce the risk for aging-related brain problems.
Future research needs to direct test if a heart-healthy diet results in better thinking skills.
The study lead author is Claire T. McEvoy, Ph.D., of Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland.
The research is published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
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