By John Salak –
Good news out of Iowa for both gourmands and gourmets. The food consumed early in life may play a critical role in a person’s cognitive health later in life. Better yet, regular consumption of cheese and red wine scored extremely well in helping to keep a person’s mind sharp and Alzheimer’s at bay.
In what is described as the first study of its kind to connect specific foods to later-in-life cognitive function, research out of Iowa State University identified what foods are beneficial to brain health and which may actually cause cognitive deterioration.
The Iowa State researchers based their findings on data collected over a ten-year period from almost 2,000 individuals ages 46 to 77. Over several sessions, the participants were asked about their consumption of fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables and salad, cooked vegetables, oily fish, lean fish, processed meat, poultry, beef, lamb, pork, cheese, bread, cereal, tea and coffee, beer and cider, red and white wine, champagne and liquor. They also took the Fluid Intelligence Test (FIT) during multiple times during this period, which provided a snapshot each individual’s ability to “think on the fly.”
The results showed that cheese, by far, was the food that provided the most protection against age-related cognitive problems. Alcohol, particularly red wine, was seen to most improve cognitive function, while only lamb of all the meats also seemed to help support mental faculties later in life.
Salt was a big loser, particularly when it came to people already at risk for Alzheimer’s, according to the findings.
“I was pleasantly surprised that our results suggest that responsibly eating cheese and drinking red wine daily are not just good for helping us cope with our current COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps also dealing with an increasingly complex world that never seems to slow down,” reported the study’s lead researcher, Auriel Willette, an assistant professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition. “While we took into account whether this was just due to what well-off people eat and drink, randomized clinical trials are needed to determine if making easy changes in our diet could help our brains in significant ways.”
Research colleague Brandon Klinedinst added that genetics undoubtedly impact who is susceptible to Alzheimer’s. “That said, I believe the right food choices can prevent the disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we’re looking for is upgrading how we eat. Knowing what that entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and putting this disease in a reverse trajectory.”
Red wine has been touted for some time as a heart healthy drink, even if it remains unclear exactly how it helps. But now Iowa State’s work along with other academic research projects are expanding red wine’s beneficial properties to other areas.
King’s College of London, for example, just reported that moderate consumption of red wine can promote gut health.
“While we have long known the unexplained benefits of red wine on heart health, this study shows that moderate red wine consumption is associated with greater diversity and a healthier gut microbiota that partly explain its long debated beneficial effects on health,” explained King’s College researcher Caroline I. Le Roy, PhD
She attributed red wine’s impact to its high concentration of polyphenols, which can fuel the microbes in the in the gut. White wines don’t have the same impact because they have a markedly lower concentration of polyphenols.
Cheese may also have gotten overlooked as a component of a healthy diet, being given a bad rap because of its connection to saturated fat. Beyond its possible impact on cognitive function, EatingWell.com recently reported that cheese offers a range of other sturdy benefits.
The site noted that eating two ounces of cheese daily may help fight heart disease thanks to its concentration of minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium and vitamins like riboflavin and B12.
The shorter-chain saturated fats and calcium in cheese may also lower a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, while regular consumption may help individuals live lower by lowering blood pressure and curbing fat absorption in the gut. If that’s not enough, the site claims cheese can help lower cholesterol, build muscle mass and improve balance in older adults.
Is this a prescription for grabbing a bottle of merlot and diving into a wheel of stilton every night? Probably not. But a glass and a nibble might just do some good.