Bad food combination may raise dementia risk

We all know that a healthy diet may benefit the brain.   It turns out that not only what foods you eat but also what foods you eat together may be associated with your risk of dementia. The recent study conducted by researchers from University of Bordeaux in France found that people whose diets consisted mostly of highly processed meats, starchy foods like potatoes, and snacks like cookies and cakes, were more likely to have dementia years later compared to people who ate a wider variety of healthy foods.  This “food network” effect has been published in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology,

A number of previous studies have shown that eating a healthier diet, for example, a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains and fish, may lower a person’s risk of dementia. Many of those studies focused on quantity and frequency of foods.  French researchers focused on the complex inter-connectedness of foods in a person’s diet in order to understand how these different connections, or food networks, may affect the brain.  In addition, the researchers looked at food networks and found important differences in the ways in which food items were co-consumed in people who went on to develop dementia and those who did not.

The study involved 209 people with an average age of 78 who had dementia and 418 people who did not have dementia.  Two groups are matched for age, sex and educational level.

Participants completed a food questionnaire five years previously describing what types of food they ate over the year, and how frequently, from less than once a month to more than four times a day. During the study period, the participants had medical checkups every two to three years. Researchers used the data from the food questionnaire to compare what foods were often eaten together by the patients with and without dementia.

Researchers found that, while there were few differences in the amount of individual foods that people ate, overall food groups or networks differed substantially between people who had dementia and those who did not have dementia.

It was noted that processed meats were a ‘hub’ in the food networks of people with dementia.  People who developed dementia were more likely to combine highly processed meats such as sausages, cured meats and patés with starchy foods like potatoes, alcohol, and snacks like cookies and cakes. This may suggest that frequency with which processed meat is combined with other unhealthy foods, rather than average quantity, may be important for dementia risk. For example, people with dementia were more likely, when they ate processed meat, to accompany it with potatoes and people without dementia were more likely to accompany meat with more diverse foods, including fruit and vegetables and seafood.

Overall, people who did not have dementia were more likely to have a lot of diversity in their diet, demonstrated by many small food networks that usually included healthier foods, such as fruit and vegetables, seafood, poultry or meats.

The researchers further noted that more diversity in diet, and greater inclusion of a variety of healthy foods, is related to less dementia.  In fact, the researchers found differences in food networks that could be seen years before people with dementia were diagnosed. 

Thanks for reading.

Journal Reference: Cécilia Samieri, Abhijeet Rajendra Sonawane, Sophie Lefèvre-Arbogast, Catherine Helmer, Francine Grodstein, Kimberly Glass, Using network science tools to identify novel diet patterns in prodromal dementia, Neurology Apr 2020, 10.1212/WNL.0000000000009399; DOI:10.1212/WNL.0000000000009399