A glass of red wine and a bit of cheese are delicious enough to have long ranked among the staple hors d’oeuvres served at dinner parties. But a new study shows wine and cheese may also deserve a place on the list of foods that improve cognitive health.
The new study, conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that red wine and cheese consumed in moderation provided protective effects against cognitive decline.
The study is getting a lot of attention. Most people associate food such as pomegranates, berries and apples, or zinc-rich dishes with improving cognitive health. But red wine and cheese? That seems too good to be true.
Researchers Studied Cognitive Health of Older Patients
The study involved data compiled over a decade for 1,787 people between the ages of 46 and 77. The researchers specifically focused on the patients’ FIT (fluid intelligence test) scores.
The FIT measures a person’s ability to think quickly. The study included scores from before the test started and then in two follow-up FIT assessments. In addition to test results, researchers also monitored diet and alcohol consumption of each patient.
The research associated a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease primarily with cheese, which they wrote “strongly predicted’ better FIT scores, and drinking red wine daily. They also associated eating lamb once a week with cognitive protection, something they did not find with other red meats.
On the other hand, they found that higher consumption of salt might lead to a higher risk of cognitive decline and development of dementia. Salt is a common component of highly processed foods, which rank among the foods to avoid that reduce brain function and impact memory.
Is It Time to Change Your Diet?
Scientists are always careful with studies such as this one. While it shows a connection between cheese, red wine and better cognitive health, it is not definitive without further tests. Brandon Klinedinst, a study co-author and a neuroscience PhD candidate at Iowa State University, said in an interview that “I wouldn’t personally tell someone to change their diet just based on this alone.”
However, he added that the study is unique in that it looked at food consumption and cognitive health for the patients over a longer period of time. He said further study is warranted, and added that the findings certainly supported people eating a Mediterranean diet
Another key to the study is moderation. Those who experienced better cognitive protection consumed up to one bottle of wine, but that covered an entire day, not one sitting. The patients also almost always drank the wine with food, which allows the body to absorb the alcohol more slowly. Most physicians, however, recommend that people do not start drinking alcohol for health reasons if they don’t already drink.
Cheese is another matter. The patients also ate cheese daily (the study does not provide the kind of cheese they ate). Previous studies have made the same conclusion about the protective potential of cheese and daily products.
For example, a recent study from Japan found that “the regular intake of dairy products and their molecular or microbial components seems to have the potential to contribute to the prevention of dementia and cognitive decline.” Those components include oleamide and dehydroergosterol. The researchers noted it is “safe and easy” to add to change a diet, and that “nutritional approaches are promising for the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders.”