How To Be Healthy: Eating Well Helps Protect Your Brain, Study Finds

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Why eating healthy is good for your noggin | Jessica Peterson via Getty Images

Eating right in midlife may prevent dementia later on, according to a new doctoral thesis published by the University of Eastern Finland. Results indicated those who consistently consumed healthy foods at the average age of 50 had a nearly 90 per cent lower risk of dementia in a 14-year follow-up study compared to those who did not eat healthfully.

Researchers used a healthy diet index based on eating a variety of foods. "Healthy" foods included vegetables, berries/fruits, fish and unsaturated fats from milk products and spreads. "Unhealthy" foods included sausages, eggs, salty fish, sugary drinks, desserts/candy and saturated fats from milk products and spreads.

Participants were between 39 and 64 years old, and 65 to 79 years old at the study baseline and follow-up, respectively. While 2,000 participants were involved in the initial study, 1,449 completed the follow-up.

Eating a large amount of saturated fats was linked to decreased cognitive function and increased dementia risk. Those who eat a diet high in saturated fats and carry the epsilon 4 variant of the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene are also at risk. This gene is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

"Even those who are genetically susceptible can at least delay the onset of the disease by favoring vegetable oils, oil-based spreads and fatty fish in their diet," says doctoral thesis author Margo Eskelinen, MSc. The thesis was based on the population-based Finnish Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Incidence of Dementia (CAIDE) study.

The Alzheimer's Association recommends increasing intake of "protective foods" to maintain a healthy brain. These include dark-skinned fruits and vegetables such as prunes, raisins, red grapes, plums, blueberries, cherries, broccoli, spinach, kale, onion, red bell pepper, beets and eggplant. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pecans are also recommended, as are cold-water fish such as trout, salmon, tuna, mackerel and halibut. Increasing intake of vitamins such as C, E, folate and B12 is also considered helpful.

Study results were published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders and Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

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