Brain Food: A New Link Between Diet and Brain Health

Published in Nature, the research showed that a healthy, balanced diet was linked to superior brain health, cognitive function and mental wellbeing. The study, involving researchers at the University of Warwick, sheds light on how our food preferences not only influence physical health but also significantly impact brain health.

The dietary choices of a large sample of 181,990 participants from the UK Biobank were analyzed against and a range of physical evaluations, including cognitive function, blood metabolic biomarkers, brain imaging, and genetics – unveiling new insights into the relationship between nutrition and overall wellbeing. The food preferences of each participant were collected via an online questionnaire, which the team categorized into 10 groups (such as alcohol, fruits and meats). A type of AI called machine learning helped the researchers analyse the large dataset.

A balanced diet was associated with better mental health, superior cognitive functions and even higher amounts of grey matter in the brain – linked to intelligence – compared with those with a less varied diet. The study also highlighted the need for gradual dietary modifications, particularly for individuals accustomed to highly palatable but nutritionally deficient foods. By slowly reducing sugar and fat intake over time, individuals may find themselves naturally gravitating towards healthier food choices.

Genetic factors may also contribute to the association between diet and brain health, the scientists believe, showing how a combination of genetic predispositions and lifestyle choices shape wellbeing. 

Healthy Growth Starts Early

Lead Author Professor Jianfeng Feng, University of Warwick, emphasized the importance of establishing healthy food preferences early in life. He said: "Developing a healthy balanced diet from an early age is crucial for healthy growth. To foster the development of a healthy balanced diet, both families and schools should offer a diverse range of nutritious meals and cultivate an environment that supports their physical and mental health."

Addressing the broader implications of the research, Prof Feng emphasized the role of public policy in promoting accessible and affordable healthy eating options. "Since dietary choices can be influenced by socioeconomic status, it's crucial to ensure that this does not hinder individuals from adopting a healthy balanced dietary profile," he stated. "Implementing affordable nutritious food policies is essential for governments to empower the general public to make informed and healthier dietary choices, thereby promoting overall public health."

Co-author Wei Cheng, Fudan University, added: “Our findings underscore the associations between dietary patterns and brain health, urging for concerted efforts in promoting nutritional awareness and fostering healthier eating habits across diverse populations.”

StepUp Note

This article reminds us that a healthy, balanced diet is associated with superior brain health (gray matter), cognitive function (problem-solving) and mental wellbeing (feeling like we can handle life’s challenges). It reminds us that food preferences are learned from food choices. And it offers us the helpful suggestion to use gradual dietary modifications to change food preference. Brain readiness helps us all learn and remember more of what we practice, including StepUp to Learn! 

Note by Nancy W. Rowe, M.S., CCC/A

Reposted from University of Warwick



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