It’s going to be a strange Christmas for many of us: plans scrapped at the last minute, not seeing friends and family in the way that we hoped and potential food shortages. Honestly, who’s stockpiling lettuce?! The only option is to make this festive season the best we can, finding joy in the small things and looking after ourselves.
Let me cheer you with some good news. Two of the treats of Christmas (for me at least) have been linked to reduced Alzheimer’s risk in a study published last month. The research looked at how consumption of specific foods connected to cognitive acuity in later life and found that cheese and red wine, in particular, were linked to reduced risk of mental decline. The research was done in the States, but used data collected by the UK Biobank from British volunteers.
How the research was done
Participants were tested for Background Fluid Intelligence, which involves solving abstract problems. Decline in ability to solve these problems is linked to greater Alzheimer’s risk. The study revealed cheese consumption to be protective against age-related cognitive problems. Drinking red wine was related to improvements in cognitive function.
As always, I’m not encouraging you to drink more (and since the first lockdown began, my alcohol consumption is at an all-time low) but if you fancy a glass, enjoy it guilt-free. The research suggests daily consumption of wine and cheese are beneficial but that seems a bit much to me. And I can’t find a reference to portion size. It occurs to me that those who consume cheese and wine regularly are more likely to be able to afford good quality foods. The lead researchers on the project did take this into account and have called for randomised control trials (the gold standard of medical research) to drill down further into the relationship between specific foods and brain health. They said, ‘ [we] believe the right food choices can prevent [Alzheimer’s] disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we’re looking for is upgrading how we eat.’
That silver bullet
This ‘silver bullet’ is indeed the key to ageing well, as far as I’m concerned. Picking the best, unprocessed foods we can afford, not fixating on avoiding food groups, or harsh diets, is the best way to nurture our health as we get older. It’s certainly something I intend to focus on in 2021.
Of course, there are many benefits to eating cheese: its impact on our gut health and the concentration of spermidine. Red wine is packed with resveratrol and procyanidins. But I do wonder – and this is just me musing out loud, not backed by clinical science – if the link between consuming cheese and wine and improved cognitive function relates in any way to the fact that they’re so darn enjoyable! Relaxing and eating foods which give us pleasure releases endorphins and serotonin, and happiness helps us age well. (We’ve written about the links between happiness and longevity in our books The Age-Well Project and The Age-Well Plan). And isn’t enjoying a little cheese and wine more fun than eating all that stockpiled lettuce?!
Our favourite festive recipes
We’ve got lots of lovely festive recipes on the blog: if you’re looking for inspiration for some of those endless meals that seem to be required between now and early January, do check out some of our favourites:
Christmas nuts – the perfect snack
Griddled Brussel sprouts with parmesan – see photo above, we could eat sprouts like this all year round
Spiced parsnip soup – warming and hearty – a good soup helps round out a meal of leftovers
Vegetable tartlets for Christmas dinner – or any dinner when you don’t want to eat meat
Lentil and herb soup with pomegranate fattoush – I’ll be making this on Christmas Eve
What are you cooking this festive season? Let us know in the comments below.
Wishing you a peaceful and merry Christmas, and an Age-Well New Year!
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