What you eat has a powerful effect on brain health and may even influence your cognitive function in the long run. In particular, a study of 1787 adults found that out of 49 whole foods, cheese was “by far” the most protective food to prevent age-related cognitive problems.1
Cheese has been unfairly vilified for its saturated fat content, when in reality, it is a healthy food that provides the essential nutrients that many people lack, including healthy fats and vitamins. As the featured study shows, eating cheese every day can be an easy way to keep your brain sharp, even in your later years.
Eat cheese every day to protect your brain
Researchers at Iowa State University measured what is known as fluid intelligence (FI) among study participants, aged 46 to 77 at the end of the study. Fluid intelligence is the ability to “think on the fly” or solve problems without any prior knowledge of the problem in question.
Research suggests that a greater decline in fluid intelligence with age is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,2 but dietary changes can influence fluid intelligence.
The study assessed the self-reported consumption of 49 foods, including fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, bread, coffee, and wine, and compared it to fluid intelligence trajectories among participants, some of whom had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease while others had. do not.
Those who ate cheese daily had better fluid intelligence scores over time, while consuming red wine also had a favorable effect. Weekly lamb consumption also improved FI results.3 Study author Auriel Willette, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, said in a press release:4
“I was pleasantly surprised that our results suggest that eating cheese and drinking red wine responsibly on a daily basis is not only good in helping us cope with our current COVID-19 pandemic, but possibly also face an increasingly complex world that never seems to slow down.
While we have taken into account whether this is simply due to what affluent people eat and drink, randomized clinical trials are needed to determine if easy changes in our diet could significantly help our brains. “
Researchers concluded that changing your daily meals can minimize cognitive decline, while adding cheese, red wine, and lamb weekly can improve cognitive function in the long run.5 Study author Brandon Klinedinst, Ph.D. in neuroscience. Iowa State candidate, further highlighted the power of diet on your long-term brain health:6
“Depending on the genetic factors you carry, some people seem to be more protected from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, while others seem to be at higher risk. That said, I believe that the right food choices can prevent disease and cognitive decline.
Maybe the quick fix we’re looking for is to improve the way we eat. Knowing what this entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and to put this disease in the opposite direction. “
Cheese is a brain food
Cheese isn’t widely known as a “brain food” – but it should be. For example, consuming mold-fermented cheese, such as Camembert, for three months had beneficial effects on levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in older women with mild cognitive decline.7
BDNF is strongly involved in the growth and survival of nerve cells in particular,8 and low levels of BDNF have been linked to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,9,ten as well as other brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and schizophrenia.11
Bioactive peptides produced by the fermentation of milk during the cheese-making process may also have antioxidant properties that play a role in improving cognitive abilities.12
Consuming camembert cheese has been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s disease in an animal study, and new lactopeptides in fermented dairy products are believed to improve memory function and cognitive decline.13 When the researchers screened peptides generated from whey protein during cheese making, peptides containing Trp-Tyr (WY) were found to improve memory function in mice.14
They worked by inhibiting the activity of monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) – MAO-B has been suggested as a biomarker of neuroinflammation in neurodegenerative disorders15 – thus helping to prevent cognitive decline associated with age.16 A host of other studies also hint at the brain-protecting potential of cheese, including:
- Consuming cheese or other dairy products once a week was associated with higher cognitive function than not consuming them17
- Over 17 years of follow-up, greater consumption of milk and dairy products reduced the risk of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, in the Japanese population18
- In men, high consumption of dairy products was significantly associated with better short-term memory19
Why cheese is good for you
Cheese contains nutrients that are beneficial for your whole body, including the powerful nutritional triad of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K2, which together channel calcium into your bones and teeth while keeping it out of your arteries.
Apart natto, cheese is the food with the highest concentrations of menaquinone, or vitamin K2, but the levels vary depending on the type of cheese. Hard Dutch cheeses such as Gouda and Edam have relatively high concentrations, as do French cheeses such as Munster.20
In addition to bone health, vitamin K2’s role in heart health is well noted. In fact, in one study, those with the highest amount of vitamin K2 were 52% less likely to experience severe calcification in their arteries and 57% less likely to die from heart disease over a period of seven to 10 years. .21
When you eat cheese, you also get high quality protein and amino acids, omega-3 fats and vitamins and minerals, including calcium, zinc, phosphorus, vitamins A, D, B2 (riboflavin) and B12.22 You will also be beneficial CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a powerful cancer fighter, especially when you eat grass-fed cheese.
Cheese prevents chronic diseases
The nutrients in cheese add to the whole body effects that can help prevent chronic disease even outside of your brain. In a study published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care, for example, researchers noted that participants who ate at least two servings of dairy products each day had a lower risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.23 In addition, they had a lower risk of metabolic syndrome.
“New evidence suggests that dairy products, especially whole and fermented dairy products (eg, cheese or yogurt), can influence various pathways and have favorable metabolic effects,” the researchers explained.24 This is another way that cheese can be neuroprotective, as conditions like diabetes adversely affect the health of your brain. Diabetes even ages your brain about five years faster than normal.25
An inverse relationship was also found between the daily amount of fermented milk products consumed and the development of heart disease. For example, those who consumed the most fermented dairy products had a 27% lower risk of heart disease in one study.26
A greater consumption of cheese, in particular, is also linked to a lower risk of heart disease.27 In the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers noted that dairy products should not be vilified because of their fat content but, rather, “the whole food matrix must be considered” and:28
“Based on the experimental and prospective studies to date, it seems plausible that manufacturing processes, such as fermentation, may influence how different dairy products affect the development of CVD. [cardiovascular disease].
The fermentation process involves the addition of live bacteria to dairy products, which can act as probiotics and result in multiple cardiometabolic benefits. Some of these bacteria, used for example in cheese making, form vitamin K2, which has been linked to a lower risk of CHD [coronary heart disease]. “
The type of cheese matters
Not all cheeses are created equal, especially if they are highly processed. Processed cheese or “processed cheese” is not a healthy food and should be avoided, while natural cheese is a complete food – a simple fermented dairy product made with nothing more than a few basic ingredients – milk, culture. starting, salt and an enzyme called rennet.
You can tell a natural cheese by its label, which will indicate the name of the variety of cheese, such as “cheddar cheese”, “blue cheese” or “brie”. Real cheese should be refrigerated. Grass-fed cheese, which is made from the milk of grass-fed cows, takes it a step further. There are a number of reasons to seek out grass-fed dairy products whenever possible.
For foodies, seasonal variations in flavor are a huge draw. For the health conscious, milk from primarily pasture-raised cows has been shown to contain many nutrients, including vitamin E, beta-carotene, and healthy omega-3 and CLA fats.29
From an environmental standpoint, grass-fed dairy products also have a significantly smaller footprint compared to how most dairy products are produced in concentrated animal feed (CAFO) operations. You can find grass-fed dairy farmers who haven’t yet gone through (or can’t afford to pass) the USDA organic certification process. In this case, speak directly to the farmer to find out how the animals are raised.
You can also look for the American Grassfed Association (AGA) logo, a must-have standard and certification for grass feeding. Grass-fed meat and dairy products grown in the United States.30 Raw, grass-fed cheese is also highly recommended, and since raw cheese is not pasteurized, the natural enzymes in milk are preserved, which increases its nutritional punch.
Overall, grass-fed cheese is a healthy whole food to include in your diet, which provides protection for your brain and overall health. It is not the only food that is good for your brain, however. If you’re looking for more advice on what to eat to protect your cognitive function, try to avoid processed fast food and eat a lot of brain stimulating foods, such as small cold-water fish, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens and organic pasture eggs.