Butter. Hamburgers. Sausages. Store-bought pastries, cakes and cookies. Oh, and soda—sugary or diet.
They’re all bad and they all raise our risk of getting dementia—by a lot.
So reports one of the biggest and scariest studies ever, involving around 60,000 people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. The study, involving a massive number of people in a long-running British health survey known as the U.K. Biobank, tracked what people typically ate and who ended up with dementia.
The subjects who scored in the bottom third on the diet schedule were 30% more likely to develop dementia within nine years than those in the top third.
Technically, the study was about the effects of the so-called “Mediterranean Diet,” which is usually described in the media as a TV movie version of an Italian family dinner: Fresh fish, vegetables and fruit, nuts and olive oil — and wine.
But the way the study worked, the researchers measured two things: How often participants ate these “Mediterranean” type foods, but also how often they ate…well, the stuff we see all around us, especially in the USA. Unmediterranean foods.
For example one of the key questionnaires used in the study was the so-called “Mediterranean Diet Adherence Screener,” which has become a standard tool for researchers in this field. (Yet another study recently confirmed its validity.)
This screener is a simple questionnaire. You can get it here, and printing it out and sticking it on the fridge may be the simplest family health hack anyone can do.
There are 14 questions: You get a point for each one you can check off at the end of the week.
Do you cook with olive oil instead of butter? Give yourself a point.
Do you consume more than 4 tablespoons of olive oil per day? Give yourself another point.
Do you eat more than 400g of fresh vegetables a day or more than three pieces of fruit? Give yourself a point for each.
You also get points if you hit the targets on eating enough fish, nuts, pulses, and dishes with the famous Italian red sauce, complete with onions and garlic. (No mention of basil, alas.)
So these are the “good” foods.
(You also get a point if you consume “more than 7 cups of wine” per week. Cheers!)
But…you also get points for avoiding the bad foods: Namely those things mentioned above, like cookies, red meat and sodas.
The latest study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal BMC Medicine.
Several previous studies have found a correlation between those following a healthy Mediterranean diet, lower rates of cognitive decline with age, and lower risk of dementia. While no diet is perfect, the Mediterranean one comes out the winner, or a winner, in study after study. The Cleveland Clinic reports that this diet lowers our risk of heart disease, cancer and many other ailments, and helps us live longer.
Meanwhile, the Alzheimer’s Society reports that about 2% of Americans age 65 to 69 have dementia, with the rate then roughly doubling with every five years you age. About a third of those over 90 have dementia, it reports.