Health & Wellness

Unhealthy Diet Tied to Dementia

Combining highly processed foods and lots of starchy foods may lead to dementia


How you combine certain types of foods may put you at a higher risk for developing dementia, according to a study in the April 22, 2020, issue of the online journal Neurology, published by the American Academy of Neurology.

Researchers analyzed various “food networks”—differing combinations of foods—and their affects on the body, and found that diets that combined highly processed meats, pastries, and starchy foods such as potatoes often coincided with dementia in later life. Those who ate a combination of healthier foods saw lower rates of the illness.

More than 600 people participated in the study, including 218 older patients who already had dementia. They took part in medical appointments with researchers and filled out regular surveys about their diets over a period of five years.

“A number of studies have shown that eating a healthier diet, for example, a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, and fish, may lower a person’s risk for dementia,” said co-author Cécilia Samieri from the University of Bordeaux in France.

The food group that correlated the most with dementia was highly processed meats. Those who combined processed meats with alcohol, starchy foods like potatoes, or snack foods like cookies, saw the highest rates of dementia.

This suggests it may not just be how often one is eating processed meat that increases their risk of dementia, but also how often one unhealthy food group is combined with another. Processed meat’s impact on the body appears to lessen when combined with healthier foods, such as vegetables, Samieri noted.

“People with dementia were more likely, when they ate processed meat, to accompany it with potatoes and people without dementia were more likely to accompany meat with more diverse foods, including fruit and vegetables and seafood,” she explained.

“We found that more diversity in diet, and greater inclusion of a variety of healthy foods, is related to less dementia.”

Photo: iStock/Axel Bueckert.