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A healthy diet, a new study from McMaster University found, can lead to healthy brain function. It was not just one particular food that lead to a healthier brain, but more of a combination, which included fruits, vegetables, fish, soy products, nuts, and a moderate intake of alcohol. Foods listed as unhealthy included deep-fried foods, red meat, and sweets.
The study was conducted on nearly 28,000 people from 40 different countries, age 55 and over. Diseases that these people had included diabetes, stroke, heart disease history, or peripheral artery disease – a condition which is caused by a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries which in turn restricts the circulation of blood to the muscles in the legs. The study did not include people who had recently experienced a stroke or other serious conditions, including congestive heart failure.
Cognitive skills, such as memory and thought process were tested three times over a five year period – at the start, midpoint through the study, and at the end of the final year. The participants were provided with a list of certain types of healthy and unhealthy food and asked how often they had consumed them. They were also asked how much fish they ate in comparison to meat and eggs, and how often they drank wine or other alcoholic beverages. The parties were tracked until the end of the five year period, or before that if they suffered any serious medical conditions, including stroke, heart attack, taken to a hospital for congestive heart failure, or death resulting from cardiovascular disease.
In the cognitive test which was performed, a decline in skills was determined if a participant’s score dropped three or more points below the maximum of 30 points. 14 percent of the 5,700 people who followed the healthiest diets showed this decline, while out of the 5,460 people on the unhealthiest diets, the numbers showed around 18 percent. The total number of people experiencing cognitive decline was around 4,700, showing that the people with the healthy diets were 24 percent less at risk of cognitive decline than people on unhealthy diets.
A healthy diet agreed by many is one which is known as a Mediterranean style diet. Followed most notably in Greece, it is made up mostly of fruit, leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats, and wine consumed in moderation.
Natives of Greece consume an average of six or more servings per day of fruits and vegetables. Bread is made up of whole grains and unlike in U.S. or Northern European countries where it is generally with butter, a saturated fat, or margarine, which contains trans-fats, bread in the Mediterranean is typically dipped in olive oil and spices.
Fats have generally been criminalized as unhealthy, but unlike traditional weight loss methods which often make the mistake of eliminating it entirely from the diet, Greek or Mediterranean diets place a lot of emphasis on consuming certain fats, which are needed help decrease blood clotting and lower triglycerides. These conditions often contribute to heart attacks and high blood pressure.
Included in the list fats needed for a healthy diet are mono-unsaturated fats like unprocessed olive oil and nuts which contribute to the reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the ‘bad cholesterol. Though saturated fats, including red meat and lamb are eaten in Greece, it is eaten generally no more than a few times a month. Other healthy fats include omega-3 fatty acids, which are derived from fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and help reduce the inflammation leading to disease.
Wine, when consumed in moderation, can complement a healthy diet well and contribute to the reduction of cardiovascular disease. Amounts consumed in countries like Greece and Italy are usually around five ounces or less for men 65 and older and women of all ages. For younger men, the amount is ten ounces or less.
More and more research is showing that a healthy diet leads to healthy brain function, and that lifestyle choices, such as regular exercise and lower stress contribute to longer term benefits. Since the brain is the organ which is responsible for the functionality of the rest of the human body, it is important that it is provided with foods rich in antioxidants. Super foods, such as cocoa, blueberries, dark leafy greens, fish oil, and olive oil contribute to an overall healthy diet accompanied by a sufficient amount of water prior in order to rid the body of any harmful toxins.
By Bill Ades