How you combine your food could alter your dementia risk

Study finds food networks centred on processed meats and starches may raise dementia risk.

Combining foods and dementia risk

It is no secret that a healthy diet can benefit the brain. However, it may not only be which foods you eat, but which foods you eat together that can increase your risk of dementia, according to a new study.

The study looked at ‘food networks’. It found that people whose diets consisted mostly of highly processed meats, starchy foods such as potatoes, and snacks like cookies and cakes, were more likely to develop dementia in later years than people who ate a wider variety of healthy foods.

“There is a complex inter-connectedness of foods in a person’s diet, and it is important to understand how these different connections, or food networks, may affect the brain because diet could be a promising way to prevent dementia,” said study author Dr Cécilia Samieri, of the University of Bordeaux in France.

“A number of 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.

“Our study went one step further to look 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, matched for age, sex and educational level, who did not have dementia.

Participants had 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. They also had medical check-ups 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 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.

“Processed meats were a ‘hub’ in the food networks of people with dementia,” said Dr Samieri. “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.

“We found that more diversity in diet, and greater inclusion of a variety of healthy foods, is related to less dementia,” said Dr Samieri. “In fact, we found differences in food networks that could be seen years before people with dementia were diagnosed.

“Our findings suggest that studying diet by looking at food networks may help untangle the complexity of diet and biology in health and disease.”

One limitation of the study was that participants completed a food questionnaire that relied on their ability to accurately recall diet rather than having researchers monitor their diets.

Another limitation was that diets were only recorded once, years before the onset of dementia, so any changes in diet over time were unknown.

Do you combine a lot of processed meat and starchy foods in your diet? Does this study encourage you to try a healthier diet?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    23rd Apr 2020
    Are you kidding!
    I love nothing more than bangers and mash washed down with a beer. At least I think I do.
    23rd Apr 2020
    I am with you on that and I do like a healthy portion of peas with them.
    23rd Apr 2020
    Don't forget the fried onions, lots of them, and of course the mustard. :)
    23rd Apr 2020
    That whole study seems to me to have been a complete waste of time with so many limitations listed at the end of the article. Also if food combinations were a valid precursor to dementia how does it explain two people living together for over 40 years and eating the same meals with only one of them developing dementia.
    23rd Apr 2020
    Good point, Chat

    23rd Apr 2020
    I can still smell my farts so I'm doing ok.
    23rd Apr 2020
    This whole study is a waste of time. They used twice as many people who did not have dementia as those who did. That completely negates any data they used. I don't know how they can support the findings, let lone get the thing published . I have been involved in medical research, and am familiar with the process of data .
    23rd Apr 2020
    The problem with studies like this is that they ignore all the other factors that could contribute to dementia, such as air quality, water, pesticides and herbicides in our food, added chemicals to increase shelf life, sugar, etc., let alone hereditary factors. The increase in dementia and Alzheimers would seem to indicate that our 'modern' lifestyle has more to do with it than diet alone. When they take all these factors into account, then I will consider the findings to be valid.
    23rd Apr 2020
    a very poor example of a very biased study. A healthy diet can include most foods in moderation. Waste of money and resources conducting non clinical studies of this nature
    23rd Apr 2020
    My dad ate a lot of salami being Italian and he ended up with dementia. I don't believe it is the combination of food rather it is how much and how healthy.
    24th Apr 2020
    My aunt is 83, only consumed healthy stuff, never drank alcohol. Strongest drink is instant
    Nestle coffee and she was diagnosed with dementia 1 year ago. Just cannot believe food and drink intake has much to do with it.
    People are getting older these days and that's the reason we are seeing more dementia cases.
    old frt
    24th Apr 2020
    Agree Mariner, age has a huge bearing .People are living a lot longer and the body and brain wears out .
    26th Apr 2020
    If potatoes are an issue because of the starch rice has a lot of starch in it too. There is possibly starch in pasta too

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