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An unhealthy diet is worse for the brain than malnutrition

Results from a Finnish study speak for themselves: excessive consumption of saturated fats, red meat and sausage are harmful to the cognitive development of children. Inadequate fish consumption also has repercussions. 

Four hundred and twenty-eight boys and girls aged between six and eight participated in the study. The researchers examined whether there was a link between the Baltic Sea Diet Score (BSDS) and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) score on the one hand and the multiple choice intelligence test Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RCPM) score on the other hand.

The Baltic Sea Diet Score measures the consumption of fruit, berries, vegetables, high-fibre cereals, low-fat milk, fish, red meat and sausage. DASH is similar, but also measures the salt intake and consumption of high-sugar drinks.

In all children there was found to be a direct link between the diet scores and the results of the IQ test. The more vegetables, fruit, fish, unsaturated fatty acids and fibres that were eaten, the higher the intelligence score. A lower score was directly linked to a relatively higher consumption of red meat, sausage, saturated fat and salt.

Although healthy foods can have a positive effect on cognition, the researchers emphasise that the link between intelligence scores and the total dietary pattern is stronger than the link between intelligence scores and separate foods. Or: healthy eating across the board has a much greater effect than occasionally including an apple in the lunchbox.

“A good diet forms the basis of normal physical and cognitive development in children. In developed countries, it has now even become evident that an unhealthy diet has a much greater negative impact on cognition than malnutrition”, warn the researchers in the British Journal of Nutrition.

In terms of the situation in the Netherlands, according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS), of all children between four and twelve years of age, approximately 30% reach the standard for fruit, 33% for vegetables and just 9% for fish. In the age category of twelve to sixteen years, this even decreases to a mere 14% (fruit), 21% (vegetables) and 6% (fish).

Sources

  1.       Eero A. Haapalaa, Aino-Maija Elorantaa, Taisa Venäläinena, Ursula Schwaba, Virpi Lindia and Timo A. Lakkaa, Associations of diet quality with cognition in children – the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children Study, British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 114 / Issue 07 / October 2015, pp 1080-1087
  2.       http://www.cbs.nl/nl-NL/menu/themas/gezondheid-welzijn/publicaties/artikelen/archief/2015/nederland-eet-onvoldoende-groente-fruit-en-vis.htm

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