Low-meat diet early in life linked to better cognition in middle age

A newly published study has found a link between consuming certain heart-healthy diets during young adulthood and better cognitive performance in middle age. Though healthy eating is already linked to a myriad of health benefits, this study looked at a particular type of diet — one low in meat and high in veggies — and its potential association with one's mental faculties over time.

The study was published this week in the journal Neurology, where researchers detail the possible effects a heart-healthy diet early in adulthood may have on cognitive performance during middle age. The researchers looked specifically at a diet that contained large quantities of vegetables and fruit, moderate levels of fish, nuts, and alcohol, and low quantities of meat.

More than 2,600 people participated in the study, which started when the volunteers were at an average age of 25. These participants were quizzed about their diets at the study's start, again seven years later, and again 20 years later. As well, the participants underwent cognitive function tests, including at the ages of approximately 50 to 55 years old.

When evaluating the participants' diets, the researchers found a link between eating the Mediterranean diet and APDQS diet and having better cognitive function in middle life compared to the DASH diet. In particular, participants who stuck mostly to a Mediterranean diet were found to be 46-percent less likely to experience poor thinking skills in middle age compared to people who didn't closely follow the diet protocol.

In comparison, the participants who primarily stuck to the APDQS diet were 52-percent less likely to have poor thinking skills in middle age compared to people who had low adherence to this particular diet. Of note, the study found that participants with higher cognitive function also had higher average daily fruit and vegetable intake.

It's important to note, though, that the study has only found a link between the two — this association doesn't mean that eating a particular diet will guarantee the dieter better mental performance as they age. Mysteries still abound, such as why the DASH diet didn't show the same positive association, and questions remain over the ideal diet for people who hope to have the best chance at maintaining their cognitive functions in middle age.