As a dietitian and daughter of a parent with dementia, I want to maintain as much cognition and memory as I can. Seeing my mother decline over the years is heart-breaking. At 85, she still knows my name but is subject to mood swings, memory loss and a life of confinement.

Currently, the only prevention for dementia is lifestyle changes. Healthy diet, exercise, adequate sleep and moderate intake of coffee and alcohol are advised. Certain phytochemicals in plant-based foods may be beneficial.

A recent study by the Biomarkers and Nutritional Food Metabolomics Research Group of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences of the University of Barcelona and the CIBER of Frailty and Healthy Aging finds that a plant-forward diet in the elderly reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Led by professor, Cristina Andrés-Lacueva at the Faculty Pharmacy and Food Sciences and head of the Biomarkers and Nutritional Metabolomics of Food Research Group of the UB and the Biomedical Research Network Center in Frailty and Healthy Aging (CIBERFES), also part of the Food Innovation Network of Catalonia (XIA), the study was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

Participants included over 840 adults aged 65 and up in the Bordeaux and Dijon regions of France. The study was completed over 12 years as part of “A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life” (JPI HDHL, part of the Joint Programming Initiative.

Dietary components, microbiota and effects of diet on health

The link between the metabolism of nutrients, the intestinal microbiome, internal metabolism and cognitive decline was evaluated. Mireia Urpí-Sardà, from the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Gastronomy and CIBERFES, states “the modulating role of diet in the risk of suffering cognitive impairment was analyzed in the cohorts of the study. Results indicated a strong link between these processes and certain nutrients.

The study showed a protective association between dietary components from cocoa, coffee, mushrooms and red wine, microbial metabolism of polyphenol-containing foods (apples, cocoa, green tea, blueberries, oranges and pomegranates) and cognitive losses in the elderly.

The evaluation of blood samples indicated that some metabolic substances are related to the advancement of cognitive decline and dementia. Some derivatives of coffee and cocoa had protective effects while saccharin, from artificial sweeteners has a damaging role.This research is important in developing preventive strategies against cognitive impairment.

Dietary changes to protect your noggin

Since there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, prevention is key. Eating a diet high in plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables coffee, green tea, and cocoa will provide various bioactive substances that help reduce the risk of cognitive decline related to aging.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Enjoy coffee or green tea at breakfast. Limit use of sugar, artificial sweeteners and creamers.
  • Include a green leafy salad, broccoli. kale or other leafy greens in your diet at least once a day (but hey, twice is better)!
  • Choose berries, citrus fruits or apples when in season. Eat at least one of these daily.
  • Include cocoa in various recipes such as hot chocolate made with skim or low-fat milk.
  • Add beans, nuts, seeds or whole grains to salads to increase fiber and healthy fats to your diet.
  • Swap red meat for salmon for omega-3-fatty acids, which may aid in dementia prevention.


  1. Raúl González‐Domínguez, Pol Castellano‐Escuder, Francisco Carmona, Sophie Lefèvre‐Arbogast, Dorrain Y. Low, Andrea Du Preez, Silvie R. Ruigrok, Claudine Manach, Mireia Urpi‐Sarda, Aniko Korosi, Paul J. Lucassen, Ludwig Aigner, Mercè Pallàs, Sandrine Thuret, Cécilia Samieri, Alex Sánchez‐Pla, Cristina Andres‐Lacueva. Food and Microbiota Metabolites Associate with Cognitive Decline in Older Subjects: A 12‐Year Prospective StudyMolecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2021; 65 (23): 2100606 DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.202100606


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