By Kelley Herring
Your brain is the fattiest organ in your body, consisting of more than 60 percent fat. So, it should come as no surprise that if you want to protect your brain as you age, it is essential to consume foods that are rich in healthy fats.
In fact, many studies show that diets low in fat and cholesterol – including vegetarian and vegan diets – are associated with cognitive decline. On the other hand, diets rich in fat have been found to reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by as much as 44%.1,2
Of course, it matters greatly what type of fats you consume!
You should avoid consuming excess omega-6 fatty acids, like those found abundantly in vegetable and seed oils and the myriad processed foods made with these ingredients. Instead, focus on foods that are rich in saturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids and the healthy “Mediterranean” monounsaturated fats.
So, what foods should you include in your diet to ensure you are getting enough of these brain-boosting fats?
Well, new research suggests that three foods are especially neuroprotective, starting with…
Yes, you read that right. Fromage. Queso. Formaggio!
A Daily Dose of Cheese to Fight Alzheimer’s Disease?
New research, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, examined the role of diet in the development of dementia. The researchers analyzed data from nearly two thousand adults over the age of 46.
Participants in the study completed a Fluid Intelligence Test (FIT) – an assessment of learning and memory skills. They also answered questions about their diet and daily intake of 49 different whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy, plus alcoholic beverages.
Follow-up tests enabled the researchers to track dietary changes and cognitive abilities over a ten-year period.
At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that:
“Daily cheese intake strongly predicted better FIT scores over time.”
In fact, of all the foods listed, cheese offered more protection against age-related cognitive decline than any other food!3
The researchers hypothesize this is related, in part, to compounds called lactopeptides. These same compounds were found to improve cognition in older adults in another study.4 They also discuss the importance of dairy fat, citing a study in the journal Appetite where a high dairy-fat diet improved working memory, compared to those who consumed low amounts of dairy products.5
But it was not only the cheese that caught the attention of these researchers. They highlighted two other neuroprotective foods: Lamb and red wine.
Lamb, Red Wine & Cheese: The Mediterranean Prescription to Fight Alzheimer’s?
The authors of the study postulate that it is the unique fat profile of lamb – rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3 fats from grazing on grass – that offered unique brain-boosting and neuroprotective benefits, while other meats did not exhibit the same correlation.
(NOTE: I would love to see a deeper comparison of study participants who consumed grass-fed meat versus conventionally-raised meat. I would expect to see comparable neuroprotective results in consumers of grass-fed beef and bison, due to a similar nutrient composition and fat profile of lamb.)
And finally, red wine…
In the study, greater red wine consumption correlated with better FIT scores. The study noted the high polyphenol content of red wine, which offers anti-inflammatory benefits. They also cite its ability to raise high density lipoprotein (HDL) and decrease blood pressure as additional mechanisms for benefitting brain health.6,7
Brandon Klinedinst, a Neuroscience PhD candidate at Iowa State, and one of the lead researchers on the study writes:
“… I believe the right food choices can prevent the disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we’re looking for is upgrading how we eat. Knowing what that entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and putting this disease in a reverse trajectory.”
When it comes to preventing cognitive decline, follow the wisdom of your ancestors!
Enjoy a whole-foods diet – rich in healthy fats from pastured meats and grass-fed dairy. Like those who live in the Mediterranean, make mealtime a relaxing ritual shared with family and friends (washed down with a nice glass of organic red wine). Also, be sure to stay active physically and mentally and get plenty of sunlight.
Do these things and you will create a healthspan that matches your lifespan!
Read more of Kelley Herring’s Health & Wellness articles on our Discover Blog.
Ed Note: Need some kitchen inspiration? Grab Kelley’s free guide – Instant Pot Keto Dinners – made exclusively with Paleo-and-Keto ingredients, for quick and delicious meals that taste just as good – of not better – than your restaurant favorites. Get your free guide here.
- Staubo SC, Aakre JA, Vemuri P, Syrjanen JA, Mielke MM, Geda YE, Kremers WK, Machulda
MM, Knopman DS, Petersen RC (2017) Mediterranean diet, micronutrients and macronutrients, and MRI measures of cortical thickness. Alzheimer’s Dement 13, 168–177. [PubMed: 27461490]
- Roberts RO, Roberts LA, Geda YE, Cha RH, Pankratz VS, O’Connor HM, Knopman DS, Petersen RC. Relative intake of macronutrients impacts risk of mild cognitive impairment or dementia. J Alzheimers Dis. 2012;32(2):329-39. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2012-120862. PMID: 22810099; PMCID: PMC3494735.
- Klinedinst BS, Le ST, Larsen B, Pappas C, Hoth NJ, Pollpeter A, Wang Q, Wang Y, Yu S, Wang L, Allenspach K, Mochel JP, Bennett DA, Willette AA. Genetic Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease Modulate How Diet is Associated with Long-Term Cognitive Trajectories: A UK Biobank Study. J Alzheimers Dis. 2020;78(3):1245-1257. doi: 10.3233/JAD-201058. PMID: 33252089; PMCID: PMC7895545.
- Ano Y, Ayabe T, Kutsukake T, Ohya R, Takaichi Y, Uchida S, Yamada K, Uchida K, Takashima
A, Nakayama H (2018) Novel lactopeptides in fermented dairy products improve memory
function and cognitive decline. Neurobiol Aging 72, 23–31. [PubMed: 30176402]
- Crichton GE, Murphy KJ, Howe PR, Buckley JD, Bryan J. Dairy consumption and working memory performance in overweight and obese adults. Appetite. 2012 Aug;59(1):34-40. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.03.019. Epub 2012 Mar 27. PMID: 22459311.
- Ronksley PE, Brien SE, Turner BJ, Mukamal KJ, Ghali WA (2011) Association of alcohol
consumption with selected cardiovascular disease outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Bmj 342, d671.]
Hines L, Rimm EB (2001) Moderate alcohol consumption and coronary heart disease: a review. Postgrad Med J 77, 747–752.