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The #1 Best Diet for Your Brain Health, Say Scientists

Plus, it will also fight off heart disease and certain cancers.

There are plenty of activities you can do to stay sharp as you age. You can do puzzles, you can exercise, and you can stay connected with your friends and family, to name a few. The foods that you eat can have a major effect on your brain health, too. Now, new research from the American Academy of Neurology finds that sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet could lower your risk of dementia.

In the study, which was published in the journal Neurology, researchers examined more than 1,000 older adults in Greece with an average age of 73. The authors looked at data concerning the participants' health and diet over roughly three years, comparing occurrences of dementia with the foods they ate.

Specifically, the researchers looked at the diet inflammatory index (DII), which gives each food a score that takes into account its pro- and anti-inflammatory properties, with the highest-scoring foods being those that are the most likely to promote inflammation. They found that higher DII scores were linked with a higher risk of dementia.

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As with any study of this kind, all we know is the association—individuals who stuck to the diet who had the lowest inflammatory scores were also the least likely to develop dementia. That's certainly a good sign, but we still don't know for sure whether eating a more anti-inflammatory diet caused this lower risk.

"I'm afraid that some people may consider our findings as a definite proof," study author Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, MS, told Eat This, Not That! in an interview. "Our study does not prove that eating an anti-inflammatory diet prevents brain aging and dementia—it only shows an association."

Still, the research is promising, and many of the foods that have low inflammatory scores are also good for your health in other ways. For instance, the Mediterranean diet is known to promote anti-inflammatory processes in the body, and it's also associated with a host of other health benefits. Plus, fighting chronic inflammation may also protect you from health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

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"Getting started on an anti-inflammatory diet may be easier than you think; it doesn't require a complete dietary overhaul for most people," Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist Ginger Hultin, MS RDN, owner of ChampagneNutrition and author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep and How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook, told Eat This, Not That!. "Studies show that people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet may influence inflammation in the diet, and lower inflammation could create more positive outcomes in those with dementia and other chronic diseases."

For more ways to eat your way to mental fitness, be sure to check out the Popular Foods That May Improve Brain Health, Says Dietitian.

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more