Dementia risk may be affected not just bywhatfoods people eat, but by the combination of foods, according to a new study from theAmerican Academy of Neurology.

The study involved 209 people with dementia and 418 people without; the two groups were matched for age, sex, and education level. Participants had completed a food questionnaire five years previously, describing what types of food they ate over the year and how frequently. They had medical checkups every two to three years.

Researchers found that while there were few differences in the amount of individual foods that people ate, overall food groups or “food networks” differed substantially between people who had dementia and those who did not have dementia.
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“Processed meats were a ‘hub’ in the food networks of people with dementia,” explained Cécilia Samieri, Ph.D., of the University of Bordeaux in France, in a press release. “People who developed dementia were more likely to combine highly processed meats such as sausages, cured meats, and patés with starchy foods like potatoes, alcohol, and snacks like cookies and cakes. This may suggest that frequency with which processed meat is combined with other unhealthy foods, rather than average quantity, may be important for dementia risk. For example, people with dementia were more likely, when they ate processed meat, to accompany it with potatoes, and people without dementia were more likely to accompany meat with more diverse foods, including fruit and vegetables and seafood.”

Overall, dietary diversity was associated with a lower risk of dementia.

"We found that more diversity in diet, and greater inclusion of a variety of healthy foods, is related to less dementia," said Samieri. "In fact, we found differences in food networks that could be seen years before people with dementia were diagnosed. Our findings suggest that studying diet by looking at food networks may help untangle the complexity of diet and biology in health and disease."