Diet and wine consumption’s impact on dementia and other neurological diseases is well-documented, from the benefits of drinking with friends and moderate wine consumption to the importance of flavonols (compounds naturally found in fruits—including grapes, nuts and wine). But new research from the University of Bordeaux, published in the journal Neurology, could turn the Mediterranean Diet on its ear by suggesting that variation in your diet—with or without wine—is key to lowering the risk of developing dementia.
The Bordeaux researchers took a different approach in their research than previous diet studies. Instead of observing how often and how much people consumed leafy greens, fruits, grains and other neuro-protective foods (such as the Mediterranean or DASH diets), they instead shifted their focus to the combinations of foods consumed. The researchers homed in on the way in which the participants combined different foods in their diets—what they call an individual’s food network—and observed how the interplay of these dietary elements either increased or decreased dementia risk.
The 1,522 participants in the French study were selected from a larger group of adults over 65 years old being tracked for dementia risk in Bordeaux, Montpelier and Dijon. The average age of the participants was 78, the majority (74 percent) were women and most (62 percent) had an education level of secondary school or higher. By the end of the 12-year study, 215 of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia.
The subjects participated in regular, detailed dietary and lifestyle questionnaires conducted by experienced dieticians and contributed blood samples. They were also assessed for their physical and neurological health on a routine basis to determine dementia risk.
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What researchers found was a significant risk of dementia in individuals who ate a narrow range of food combinations that consisted of large amounts of processed food, starches and unhealthy snacks. Also, most individuals who developed dementia or increased risk factors for the disease tended to repeatedly combine the same types of food. The group that showed the lowest dementia risk instead consumed a varied diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables and fewer starches.
One aspect of the study that has to be further explored—and has some researchers questioning whether these results can be generalized to other geographic regions—is the level of alcohol consumption in both groups. The average consumption for both groups was nine alcoholic drinks per week. How wine and other alcohol affected the interplay of different food combinations in the study is unknown.
But despite this, the researchers are confident that mapping an individual’s food network is a powerful new analytical tool that should be used by nutrition researchers to dig deeper into why certain diets seem to produce healthier brains than others. The researchers were able to predict which individuals would have a higher dementia risk just by looking at the dietary diversity in someone’s meal preparation—something to keep in mind the next time you reach for the same bag of potato chips.