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Diet and Dementia: What the Research Says

Diet and dementia may be more closely tied than some people realize.  There is evidence to suggest much of the food and drink we consume on a regular basis can increase or decrease the risk of dementia. 

So what foods bolster brain health, and which foods decrease cognition? The list below is not exhaustive, but does cover much of the current research and a variety of foods that are good and bad for brain health.   

Increased Risk 

Diet Soda 

Many people see diet soda as the healthier alternative to soda.  In some ways this is true, especially if you are wanting or needing a low sugar diet.  However, diet soda is not necessarily that healthy in other ways. A body of recent research suggests that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda may increase the risk of dementia or stroke.  One study, published by the American Heart Association, found that adults over 60 who drank one artificially sweetened drink daily were almost three times as likely to develop dementia as their counterparts who did not drink as many diet drinks. 

Margarine and Pastries 

Pastries and buttery sweets sure are delicious!  But too much margarine or too many buttery pastries can actually increase your risk of dementia.  This is because of the amount of trans fat, or trans fatty acids, found in these items. Trans fats are man-made, dense, solid fats found in foods like margarine, shortening, and sweet pastries. A Japanese study measured the levels of trans fat in various adults’ blood, and found that 10 years later, those with the highest levels of trans fat were almost 75% more likely to develop dementia. So to keep your brain healthy and prevent dementia, avoid too many trans fats in your diet. 

Decreased Risk 

Yogurt and Kombucha 

There seems to be a strong connection between the gut and the brain.  Digestive health can play a major role in brain health.  In particular, findings suggest that the gut microbiota prebiotics and probiotics play a particular role.  Foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics seem to offer protective benefits to help prevent dementia. Foods like yogurt and kimchi, along with drinks like kombucha, are high in prebiotics and probiotics, so can potentially prevent dementia and cognitive decline. 

Spinach and Beans 

Another key to decreasing your risk of developing dementia may lie in dietary flavonols. A 2020 study looked at a sample of healthy adults who did not have dementia, and followed them to see how factors in their diet impacted whether they developed Alzheimer’s or dementia.  The findings?  The dietary flavonol kaempferol was inversely related to the development of Alzheimer’s. So foods high in kaempferol may help prevent dementia. Food like spinach and beans are particularly high in kaempferol. 


Last but certainly not least, tea can also have protective cognitive benefits.  Similar to the foods mentioned above, like spinach and beans, tea is high in the flavonol kaempferol. To decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia, consider adding a cup of tea to your daily diet. 

So all in all, more tea, spinach, beans, yogurt, and kombucha and less margarine, pastries, and diet soda can help you prevent the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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