This Eating Habit Is Making Your Brain Age Faster, Study Says

We've all been told that indulging in sugary, fried, and processed foods can derail progress when following a diet. But a new study emphasizes the serious health risks that come with this easy eating habit—and it could actually cancel out Mediterranean diet benefits.

Published in Alzheimer's&Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association on Jan. 7, 2021, the study looked at the effect of "Western diet" foods on older adults. These include fried foods, sweets, red and processed meats, full-fat dairy. Following a strict Mediterranean diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and legumes and limiting other kinds of foods is equal to the brain being 5.8 years younger, scientists found. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.)

The 5,001 participants were following the Mediterranean diet for almost 20 years. Every three they would fill out a form detailing how often they ate 144 foods. Scientists found that "Participants with slower cognitive decline over the years of follow-up were those who adhered closest to the Mediterranean diet, along with limiting foods that are part of Western diet, whereas participants who ate more of the Western diet had no beneficial effect of healthy food components in slowing cognitive decline."

Similar results are found in studies of other diets like DASH, one of the study authors, Puja Agarwal, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College, says.

"Other studies show that red and processed meat, fried food and low whole grains intake are associated with higher inflammation and faster cognitive decline in older ages," Agarwal says, according to ScienceDaily. "The more we can incorporate green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, olive oil, and fish into our diets, the better it is for our aging brains and bodies."

For tips on how to reduce the "Western diet" foods and get the most Mediterranean diet benefits, here are 33 Easy Plant-Based Recipes Even Carnivores Will Love and 15 Mediterranean Diet Swaps for Your Go-To Meals.

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