There’s a new study making its rounds in the mainstream press—one that basically gave people a free pass to eat all the junk they want without having to worry about developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or dementia later in life.
But as you probably suspect, your diet at any stage in life does matter, despite these faulty findings.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and found no association between diet at midlife and dementia risk. But don’t let that finding fool you. Because the study had several major flaws.
So, let’s get right to it…
New analysis misses mark on diet
This new, long-term analysis followed more than 8,000 British civil servants for 25 years. At the study’s outset, the participants’ average age was 50 years. And two-thirds of them were men.
At three different points in time over the 25-year study, the participants answered 127 questions about their food intake. Researchers then assessed how “healthy” or “unhealthy” the participants’ diets were using the 2010 Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI).
According to this index, a “healthy” diet has a greater proportion of:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids
- Moderate alcohol intake
- Whole grains
On the other hand, an “unhealthy” diet has a greater proportion of:
- Cakes and sweets
- Fried foods
- High-fat dairy
- Processed meats
- Red meats
- Refined grains
- Sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juices
- Trans fats
As you may note, there are problems with how the researchers categorized “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods. (We’ll return to that point in a moment.)
Misguided food guidelines muddle results
During the 25-year follow-up period, 344 people developed dementia. But the researchers found that people who followed a “healthy” diet didn’t have a lower risk of developing it. And the people who followed an “unhealthy” diet didn’t have a higher risk of developing it, either.
In other words, the researchers found no association between diet (the way they measure it) at midlife and dementia risk.
And that finding doesn’t surprise me much, especially when you look at the misguided way they defined a “healthy” versus an “unhealthy” diet. In fact, researchers put some very healthy and important foods in the unhealthy column—and vice versa.
So it’s no wonder their results were muddled.
Let’s look at some of the specific problems with the researchers’ so-called “healthy” diet:
- Unsaturated fats. The healthy category contained more unsaturated fats and less saturated fats (which are found in full-fat dairy and red meat). But previous research links a diet higher in saturated fats to major health benefits for the body and especially the brain.
- “Moderate” alcohol intake. Studies show that “moderate” alcohol consumption, as defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is actually lower than optimal levels. Plus, many other studies show that older people who consume more alcohol have better brain health. And I’ve always believed alcohol works to prevent dementia by increasing blood flow and circulation to the body, and especially the brain, which is very important as we age. It also reduces stress.
Now, let’s look at what’s wrong with their definition of an “unhealthy” diet:
- Red meat and full-fat dairy. (Side note: Why even call it “high-fat” dairy? It’s an implicit bias. So, I always refer to it as full-fat dairy, which is the natural state.) Research links diets low in red meat and full-fat dairy with poorer health outcomes. And these poorer outcomes probably occur because red meat and full-fat dairy contain important macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals, which you need to maintain good brain health.
- Sodium. Studies show that limiting sodium doesn’t benefit overall health. And it especially doesn’t benefit brain health. So, why put it there? (Maybe because they show the same nutritional ignorance as most mainstream researchers.)
Now, let’s move on to the biggest underlying issue with this study…
The researchers used a sloppy technique from the dark ages—self-reported food questionnaires.
Research methods influence results
As I’ve reported before, food questionnaires typically ask people to try and remember exactly what they’ve eaten over a period of time.
Most people can hardly remember what they had for lunch the day before yesterday! Plus, participants typically don’t want to admit everything they’ve eaten.
So it’s beyond me why any researcher would still rely on such an imprecise method…
Not to mention, we have a far better, more accurate, scientific methods for assessing diet! In fact, as I reported in February, researchers with the University of Eastern Finland just completed an impressive, well-designed study on egg consumption.
And they didn’t take the lackadaisical route of administering an unreliable food questionnaire to determine egg consumption. Instead, they used the advanced, scientific approach called “metabolomics,” which measures specific biomolecules in the blood.
Poor-quality produce makes supplementation essential
There’s one more issue that may have skewed this study’s results…the poor quality of the produce consumed by participants.
As I’ve reported before, the actual nutrient content and quality of mass-produced, conventionally grown crops has significantly declined over the past 80 years. So, even if you do eat six to eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day, it may not be enough to achieve optimal health.
And that’s where smart supplementation comes in…
In recent UCLA trials, nine out of 10 participants who followed a healthy diet and took dietary supplements reversed AD and dementia.
You can learn all about how a balanced diet with smart supplementation can help protect your brain well into your 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond in my online learning protocol, the Complete Alzheimer’s Cure. To learn more, or enroll today, simply click here.
At the end of the day, diet does matter in the development (and reversal) of dementia, as I always report. So, make sure to follow a healthy, Mediterranean-type diet, which includes:
- Full-fat dairy, including butter, eggs, cheeses, and yogurt
- Wild-caught fish and grass-fed, free-range meat, especially lamb, which has the best nutritional profile of all meats
- Nuts and seeds
- Six to eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day
- Alcohol in moderation
This sensible, science-based diet will help you prevent diseases like dementia…without cutting out enjoyable, healthy, whole foods.
Salud, cent’anni! (Which means “health for 100 years” in Italian.)
P.S. Tune back in on Thursday for my full report on one key vitamin linked to improved cognition in older women.
“Association of Midlife Diet With Subsequent Risk for Dementia.” Journal of AMA, on-line, March 12, 2019. JAMA. 2019;321(10):957-968. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.1432