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Study suggests healthy Nordic diet may reduce dementia risk

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Published on Jul 22, 2017

(17 Jul 2017) Lunchtime at Hotorgshallen market hall in Stockholm.
The bustling city centre food hall is packed to the brim with foods from around the world, including fish, meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. But, unsurprisingly, the dominant style here is Nordic.
"Nordic diet. I think it's kind of using the seasons as they're supposed to be," explains Per Edwards, the head chef at fish bar 'Hav', which means 'sea' in Swedish.
"We eat fish (in the) summertime when it's meant to eat, like salmon now, you've got herring.
"But also about pickling and preservatives, like conserving the food for the upcoming season.
"And then, we brine the fish, we salt it, cure it, smoke it, and it keeps it quite natural and also natural fat and healthiness in it."
New research is now adding to growing evidence that a healthy diet, such as fish-heavy, traditional Nordic-style fare, helps protect minds in later life.
Researchers from Stockholm's Karolinska Institute spent six years observing over 2,200 dementia-free over 60-year-olds in Sweden.
The aim was to identify a Nordic-style diet that preserves cognitive functions.
"We emphasize non-root vegetables, this is not considered in other dietary patterns," says report author Weili Xu from Stockholm's Aging Research Centre.
"Non-root vegetables and we also have in addition to Mediterranean diet good items, we have pasta, and water, tea and certain fruits, such as pears, apples."
The diet identified many Nordic staples, such as fat-rich fish and poultry.
While steering clear of high consumption of root vegetables, such as potatoes, it includes apples, pears and peaches.
Rather than olive oil, which is dominant in the Mediterranean diet, the diet includes vegetable oils, mainly rapeseed oil.
The diet also has low levels of butter, margarine, sugar, sweets and pastries.
Their findings suggest people who followed this healthy Nordic-style diet, named the 'Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern' (NDPD), might have lower risk of mental decline.
The diet seemed a better predictor of decline than some other regional European diets, such as the Mediterranean diet and the Baltic Sea diet.
"What we found is this Nordic dietary pattern we can have the most beneficial effect on preserving cognitive functions in comparison to MIND diet, DASH diet, Mediterranean diet and Baltic Sea diet," says Weili Xu.
"So this is what we found, this can lead to the most benefits for preserving the cognitive functions."
The study is set to be presented Monday at the annual Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London.
Experts say it's further proof a healthy diet can help protect against cognitive decline as we age.
"We have learned a lot that the diet may really have a key role if we are thinking the cognitive aging and cognitive impairment, especially when we are getting older," explains Miia Kivipelto, a professor at the Karolinska Institute, who was not directly involved in the study.
"I would say (the) brain needs lots of nutrients and that's so important how we think how we are eating, how we try to prevent.
"We know that the process leading to Alzheimer's disease may start 20, 30 years before we get the diagnosis.
"So now we are not only talking about elderly persons, it's more the lifelong dietary patterns we should focus on."
But Kivipelto says a healthy diet alone is no simple fix.
She says it's just one piece of the puzzle as people grow older. But, crucially, diet is something people can control and modify.
"It would be a bit too simplified picture to say if you eat exactly in this way you will not get Alzheimer's," says Kivipelto.
According to Alzheimer's Disease International, dementia affects almost 50 million people worldwide.


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