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#BrainHealth: you are what you eat?

If you take #BrainHealth seriously you need to focus on diet.

Do you buy into 'you are what you eat'? This ambitious systematic literature review has identified 10 foods and 7 nutrients with evidence for causal cardio-metabolic effects. Any intervention that reduces your vascular risk burden should reduce all-cause dementia and improve your Brain Health. 

The foods that were found to have protective effects:
  1. fruits
  2. vegetables
  3. beans/legumes
  4. nuts/seeds
  5. whole grains
  6. fish
  7. yogurt
  8. fibre
  9. seafood omega-3s
  10. polyunsaturated fats
  11. potassium
The food found to have harmful effects: 
  1. unprocessed red meats
  2. processed meats
  3. sugar-sweetened beverages
  4. glycemic load (sugar or carbohydrates)
  5. trans-fats
  6. sodium/salt. 
There is nothing new here and most of this should be obvious to you and is currently included in mots dietary guidelines. The elephant in the room is economics; in modern economies people eat what they can afford. Modifying the nation's diet is going to need a rethink about how we encourage a healthy diet. Could this be another example of the need for policy? How about a tax on the harmful foodstuffs to subsidise a healthy diet for the poor? 

Micha et al. Etiologic effects and optimal intakes of foods and nutrients for risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses from the Nutrition and Chronic Diseases Expert Group (NutriCoDE).  PLoS One. 2017 Apr 27;12(4):e0175149.

BACKGROUND: Dietary habits are major contributors to coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. However, comprehensive evaluation of etiologic effects of dietary factors on cardiometabolic outcomes, their quantitative effects, and corresponding optimal intakes are not well-established.

OBJECTIVE: To systematically review the evidence for effects of dietary factors on cardiometabolic diseases, including comprehensively assess evidence for causality; estimate magnitudes of etiologic effects; evaluate heterogeneity and potential for bias in these etiologic effects; and determine optimal population intake levels.

METHODS: We utilized Bradford-Hill criteria to assess probable or convincing evidence for causal effects of multiple diet-cardiometabolic disease relationships. Etiologic effects were quantified from published or de novo meta-analyses of prospective studies or randomized clinical trials, incorporating standardized units, dose-response estimates, and heterogeneity by age and other characteristics. Potential for bias was assessed in validity analyses. Optimal intakes were determined by levels associated with lowest disease risk.

RESULTS: We identified 10 foods and 7 nutrients with evidence for causal cardiometabolic effects, including protective effects of fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds, whole grains, fish, yogurt, fiber, seafood omega-3s, polyunsaturated fats, and potassium; and harms of unprocessed red meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, glycemic load, trans-fats, and sodium. Proportional etiologic effects declined with age, but did not generally vary by sex. Established optimal population intakes were generally consistent with observed national intakes and major dietary guidelines. In validity analyses, the identified effects of individual dietary components were similar to quantified effects of dietary patterns on cardiovascular risk factors and hard endpoints.

CONCLUSIONS: These novel findings provide a comprehensive summary of causal evidence, quantitative etiologic effects, heterogeneity, and optimal intakes of major dietary factors for cardiometabolic diseases, informing disease impact estimation and policy planning and priorities.


  1. I agree the solution to a healthy diet at a population level needs to be political. It is a pity these authors' didn't look at vitamins, in particular vitamin D.

  2. Re: "Vitamin D"

    The problem with vD is the evidence is all over the place and my colleagues in the Wolfson think the association of low vD levels and disease may all be explained by reverse causation. When I get time I will post on this.


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