I was pleasantly intrigued over recent headlines: “Study: Wine and Cheese May Protect Against Cognitive Decline.” “Study says wine and cheese may boost brain health.”
It might have been helpful to add “in some people.” According to the actual research paper, our individual genetics and family history of memory problems such as Alzheimer’s disease also influence how our brains respond to various foods in our diets.
My dad had Alzheimer’s so I was especially interested to know more details behind this particular research. Here’s what I found:
Participants in this study were men and women between the ages of 46 to 77 who were part of a larger study in the United Kingdom. Over the course of 10 years, they were questioned about their intake of food and alcohol and completed tests which measured their fluid intelligence — the ability to think quickly and recall information.
At the end of the study, the research team, including several from Iowa State University, reported these results:
Daily intake of cheese was strongly associated with better fluid intelligent scores over the 10 years. However, some participants, such as those with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, did not show this benefit. Darn.
Daily alcohol intake also appeared to be beneficial to brain health. And “red wine was additionally protective,” especially in people with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, these researchers reported.
What harmed thinking ability over time? Excess salt, especially for those with a genetic tendency to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Interestingly, this is not the only study to look at certain components in food that may be helpful to our thinking as we age. The MIND diet, for example, combines the brain beneficial effects of two well-studied dietary patterns — the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet. (MIND stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.”)
Anyway, the MIND diet found that people who frequently ate foods such as green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts and olive oil had slower declines in thinking abilities than those who ate these foods less often. Interestingly, one glass of wine a day was also a positive factor in this study.
Before we go hog wild on wine and cheese though, let’s remember that this current study looked at the frequency of foods and alcohol consumed, not necessarily amounts. A slice of cheese and a glass of wine each day may confer different benefits than a giant bowl of cheese dip accompanied by a couple of bottles of champagne.
What is intriguing about this study, however, is that it looks at the effects of various foods, not just isolated nutrients, on our health. Look for more of these types of studies in the future. Let’s make it a Happy and Healthful New Year.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to firstname.lastname@example.org.