Link between plate and brain: healthy eating from childhood can influence cognitive decline later in life

Adopting a healthy diet from an early age and throughout adulthood can help maintain good brain function in old age, according to the preliminary conclusions of a study based on data from more than 3,000 people followed in the United Kingdom for almost seven decades, presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nutrition.

This is the first study to analyze nutrition and cognitive capacity throughout life – from four to 70 years old. The work suggests that the links between the two can start earlier than was thought. Research in the area has shown that a healthy diet can help prevent age-related cognitive decline and even Alzheimer’s disease, but it has focused mainly on habits nutrition of people between 60 and 70 years old, refers to the team.

In addition to the results corroborating the importance of “establishing healthy eating patterns early in life†, in order to “maintain health” over timealso “provide new evidence that suggests that improving dietary patterns until middle age can influence cognitive performance and help mitigate, or reduce, cognitive decline in later years†, explains the researcher from the University of Tufts, Kelly Cara, in a statement.

From the age of 65, cognitive performance or reasoning ability may begin to decline, and age is the main risk factor for the development of diseases such as dementia. The research team points out that a healthy diet, i.e. rich in foods of plant origin which contain high levels of antioxidants and mono- and polyunsaturated fats, can contribute to brain health.

For the analysis, data were used from 3059 adults in the United Kingdom who, as children, were enrolled in a study called National Survey of Health and Development. The information covered food consumption and the results of questionnaires and tests, particularly cognitive ones, carried out over almost 70 years.

Researchers discovered, when studying different moments in life, that the quality of food was “closely linked†to trends in general cognitive ability. Only about 8% of people on low-quality diets maintained high cognitive ability, while only about 7% of people on high-quality diets maintained a low cognitive capacity over time, compared to peers.

Between the ages of 68 and 70, participants in the higher cognitive group showed much greater retention of working memory, processing speed and overall cognitive performance compared to those in the cognitive group lower. In the latter, almost a quarter showed signs of dementia at these ageswhile none of the members of the other group revealed them.

Although most people have improved the quality of their diet throughout adulthood, researchers observed that slight differences in the quality of nutrition in childhood they seemed to “set the tone†for later dietary patterns, both for better and for worse. “This suggests that food intake early in life can influence our eating decisions later in life, and the cumulative effects of diet over time are linked to the progression of our global cognitive abilities,†says Kelly Face.

Participants who maintained higher cognitive abilities over time relative to their peers tended to eat more foods recommended in the 2020 North American Healthy Eating Index – such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains – and less sodium, added sugars and refined grains.

“Dietary patterns that are rich in whole or less processed plant-based food groups, including green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole fruits and whole grains, may be more protective. Adjusting food consumption at any age to incorporate more of these foods and align with current recommendations is likely to improve our health in many aspects, including cognitive health,” concludes the researcher.


Francesco Giganti

Journalist, social media, blogger and pop culture obsessive in newshubpro

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