They also found that unprocessed meat could be protective. Here’s what you need to know.

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It is becoming more and more apparent that the way we eat and live can impact the health of our brains. For example, a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy sleep habits, may increase your Alzhiemer's risk. (These 13 Things Could Make You More Likely to Get Alzheimer's, According to New Study). Luckily for us, there are also ways to reduce your risk and give your brain health a boost (learn more about the MIND diet for a healthy brain). One recent study took a deep dive into the data to see how one food influences dementia risk: meat. Here is what they found about meat and brain health. 

Worried senior woman with head in hands sitting by dining table at home
Credit: Getty Images / Maskot

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at health data from about 500,000 adults ages 40 to 69 in the United Kingdom (UK) to see what habits were associated with developing dementia later in life. They found that people who ate over 25 grams of processed meat (about 3 slices of bacon or processed jerky) each day had a 44% increased risk for developing dementia. They noted that it is important to consider frequency here, as well as other lifestyle factors. Those who consumed processed meat at least daily were also more likely to smoke, less physically active, less educated and more likely to have family history of stroke or dementia. 

Conversely, they also found that consuming 50 grams (about two ounces) of unprocessed meats like beef, pork and veal daily was associated with a 19% decreased risk of dementia. Two ounces daily is much less than the average serving size, but this averages out to 350 grams per week, which is roughly 12.5 ounces of meat per week. If you were to eat a standard 4-ounce serving of meat, this equates to eating meat about 3 times per week. The protective effects of unprocessed meat were more often seen with people who consumed more moderate amounts of meat a few times a week. 

So what does this mean for you? Meat has always been a controversial topic in nutrition, and different groups may interpret data like this in different ways. It's also important to note that association does not imply causation, so we can't say for sure that processed meat would cause dementia. We know that eating too much processed meat isn't great for you from other research. It may increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and it isn't great for your gut health. To give your brain a protective boost, enjoy moderate amounts of unprocessed meats alongside plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes. Some nights, opt for fish, poultry or vegetarian mains. For more, check out this guide to the MIND diet