Adding More of These Foods to Your Diet Can Reduce the Risk of Dementia, According to New Research
It's no secret that eating veggies is good for your health—a plant-based diet has all kinds of benefits, from protecting your heart to helping reduce your risk for prostate or colon cancer. And now researchers have added another benefit to the list: protecting your brain health.
A new study in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that adding more fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods to your diet could help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. The study took place in France and followed more than 800 people over 65 years old for 12 years. Researchers focused on metabolites—the end products of metabolism—and their effect on cognitive impairment. They found that foods like cocoa, coffee, mushrooms, apples and blueberries had a protective association with brain health.
The researchers identified an inverse association between the metabolites of those plant foods and markers of cognitive decline. Essentially, this means the more plant-based metabolites that were present in a subject's samples, the fewer metabolites associated with cognitive decline there were.
As a result, researchers determined that eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains would be beneficial to those hoping to reduce their dementia risk. These recommendations make diets like the MIND diet and Mediterranean diet good candidates for folks wanting to protect their brain as they age. These healthy and delicious diets feature plenty of plant-based foods and are easy enough to follow that you can realistically do them for life. (Read more on how to follow these easy eating plans for brain health here.)
On the other hand, the researchers on this study also found that some metabolites have an adverse effect on cognition.
"For example, 2-furoylglycine and 3-methylanthine, which are biomarkers of coffee and cocoa consumption, had a protective profile, while saccharin—derived from the consumption of artificial sweeteners—is associated with a damaging role," said Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, a professor and the study's lead researcher, in a media release.
Artificial sweeteners have a mixed reputation. On one hand, they're helpful in preventing blood-sugar spikes in people who have diabetes. On the other hand, too much of certain sweeteners may impact things like gut heath, and—according to this new research—cognitive health as well. If you're concerned about the effect artificial sweeteners might have in the long run, opt for something like honey, agave or plain old granulated sugar in your morning cup of coffee. As long as you're using just a little bit, and choose naturally sweet treats elsewhere throughout the day (think a piece of fruit or a smoothie for a snack), that little bit of sugar won't hurt.
If you're looking for little ways to make your routine plant-based, you could try out Meatless Mondays, and skip animal protein for all three meals once a week. You could even give yourself the project of cooking through our cozy winter vegetarian dinners, or take it easy with a mix of plant-based dinners that you can whip up in five steps or less.
Whether you choose to give your routine a new year's overhaul or make minor changes, you're sure to reap the rewards of going plant-based—you might even add a little more time to your lifespan or see your cholesterol levels get healthier. Just be sure to add in some of the foods that are best for your brain health, including vegan options like beets, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and olive oil.