WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
A balanced diet, rich in vitamins, low in saturated fats and high in omega-3 fats, low in processed sugars and rich in high-quality proteins helps lower the likelihood of impaired cognitive function in older adults.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Earlier this year at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington, D.C., researchers presented a study on the connection between diet and mental decline in older adults.1 The study, which included 550 seniors, asked participants questions about their diets as well ask asking participants to recall how many servings of grains, fried food, snacks sweets, fats, alcohol, fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meat products they consumed on a weekly basis. On average, seniors in the study were 80 years old, and none of the participants showed signs of dementia.
Each participant took several tests to determine memory and thinking skills, including executive function. Executive function is the collection of elements done by the brain, including higher-level functioning such as memory, reasoning, multi-tasking, problem solving and planning skills. This set of skills is essential for a senior’s independence and autonomy. In the United States, 14% of people over the age of 71 have dementia, a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.2,3 When a senior has dementia, her/his ability to perform many daily activities, such as grocery shopping, driving and paying bills, becomes difficult or impossible. Figuring out ways to decrease a person’s chances of developing dementia will enable her/him to have a higher quality of life in older age.
WHY THIS MATTERS
This study found that older adults with healthier diets reduced their odds of lowered executive function by 35%. There was no link found between diet and overall memory and thinking, meaning that while a healthy diet is protective against some aspects of aging, it’s not the magic bullet to prevent cognitive decline. The researchers speculate that seniors with healthier diets had the healthiest lifestyles overall: they ate a balanced diet, engaged in exercise regularly and got enough sleep each night.
What does a nutritious and balanced diet look like? A diet rich in natural vitamins and antioxidants, low in saturated fats and rich in omega-3 fats, low in refined sugars and rich in high-quality proteins is the ideal. For example, seniors who had healthier scores for saturated fat intake were linked to 66% lower odds of poor executive function. Luca Giliberto, a researcher and physician at the Litwin-Zucker Research Center for the Study of Alzheimer’s Disease at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, says, “In reality, it is probably the balance of all of these aspects [of a balanced diet] and the attached quality of life, physical and mental activity, and personal satisfaction that complete the recipe for good cognition.”
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