4 Diet Choices That Could Improve Cognition and Coping

Researchers suggest eating this way to protect against mental decline.

Posted Dec 30, 2020

Alexander Lesnitsk/Pixabay, used with permission.
Some foods appear to enhance cognition.
Source: Alexander Lesnitsk/Pixabay, used with permission.

A large-scale study, performed at Iowa State University and published in the November 2020 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that some specific food and beverage choices, made consistently, appear to be connected to one's degree of cognitive ability later in life. Although genetic factors play a big role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, these researchers found that diet may also have a significant influence on cognitive health over time.

The researchers analyzed the dietary habits of more than 1,700 men and women aged 46 to 77, including both food and alcohol consumption, using a standard Food Frequency Questionnaire that indicates which foods and how much of each food an individual consumes on a regular basis. The survey specifically asked study participants about their consumption of fresh and dried fruit, raw and cooked vegetables, oily and lean fish, processed meats, beef, lamb, pork, and poultry, cheese, bread, cereal, tea, coffee, beer, alcoholic cider, red and wine wine, champagne, and hard liquor.

The researchers then compared this diet data to the results of several Fluid Intelligence Tests taken by participants over the course of 10 years, measuring participants’ ability to think logically, solve puzzles and problems, and respond to new problems in which the answer is not based on previous knowledge or experience. It has been established that a higher degree of fluid intelligence also allows us to adapt to changing circumstances in our lives, while declining fluid intelligence increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Their findings suggest that Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline may be preventable, or at least minimized or slowed down, for those who:

  • Eat cheese every day. In this study, cheese had the most significant effect of all foods in protecting against age-related cognitive decline.
  • Drink alcohol daily. Responsible drinking (with an emphasis on responsible) of all types of alcohol, and especially red wine, was associated with improved cognition
  • Choose lamb over other red meats. Lamb, consumed weekly, was the only red meat related to long-term cognitive health in this study.
  • Use less salt. Added salt in the diet is generally considered unhealthy, but may also put those who are already at risk of cognitive decline at even greater risk.

As with all groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind research, further studies are necessary to confirm these findings and determine what, if any, official dietary recommendations can be made.

Meanwhile, this isn’t the first study to show that a balanced diet that includes regular consumption of specific foods, including cheese, and moderate intake of alcoholic beverages (defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as one drink for women and two for men) such as red wine, can result in better health outcomes than a diet that abstains from or includes too much of specific foods or alcoholic beverages. However, there is no official recommendation from health experts to start drinking alcoholic beverages for health purposes; there is merely the suggestion that if you do drink alcohol in moderation, it may help rather than hurt your health, and that some alcoholic beverages may provide more benefits than others.

The advice for foods is similar: Eating some foods in moderation may enhance your health more than others; however, the nutrients and other healthful substances in these specific foods and beverages can most often be found in others as well.

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Klinedinst BS, Le ST, Larsen B, et al. Genetic factors of Alzheimer’s Disease modulate how diet is associated with long-term cognitive trajectories: A UK Biobank study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. November 24, 2020: 78(3): 1245-1257.

Iowa State University. Diet modifications—including more wine and cheese—may help reduce cognitive decline, study suggests." ScienceDaily. December 10, 2020