We’ve known for a long time that what you put in your plate is the single most important modifiable environmental factor for your risk of getting a variety of diseases, ranging from obvious ones like scurvy (drink your OJ!) to less obvious ones like prostate cancer (stay away from red meat!). Given these relationships, a team of researchers decided to study what combination of foods may relate to a risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. They asked over 2000 elderly subjects to describe their eating habits in great detail, then followed them for 4 years.
After the 4 years had passed, 253 subjects had developed Alzheimer’s disease. After careful analysis of the subjects’ diets, the researchers concluded that the following diet characteristics significantly lowered your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease:
- The diet is rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids
- The diet is rich in vitamin E and folate
- The diet is poor in saturated fatty acids
- The diet is poor in vitamin B12
- Eating salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, dark and green leafy vegetables is correlated to a decrease in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
- Eating high-fat dairy, red meat, organ meat, and butter is correlated with an increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The major strength of this study is that it looked at existing dietary patterns instead of trying to impose them, which is often unreliable. However, some of the results can be misleading. A low intake of vitamin B12 may seem to protect you against Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s because a lot of food that contains B12 (such as meat and dairy) also contain high levels of saturated fats, which increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Overall, as with any scientific study, the results must be interpreted carefully. It’s a combination of foods that is important: you can drink antioxidant-rich blueberry juice all you want, but if you’re having it with a side of ground beef, you’re missing the point. In addition, there could be some factor other than diet at play that the authors did not control for.
So while we don’t have a miracle drug yet, and no single food can prevent Alzheimer’s disease, it seems like a healthy, varied and unprocessed diet is a good place to start to ensure healthy aging.
P.S. It's Jello.
Reference: Food combination and Alzheimer disease risk: A protective diet (2010) Gu Y et al. Arch Neurol [Epub ahead of print]