People who eat more fruit and vegetables may have bigger brains, new research from the Netherlands suggests.
According to a new study, published in the medical journal Neurology, people who stuck to Dutch nutritional guidelines or ate a Meditteranean-style diet had a larger total brain volume.
The best diet, according to the researchers, consisted of vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, dairy and fish, with a low intake of sugary drinks.
People with such a diet had, on average, brains that were 2ml larger than those who consumed an unhealthy diet with too many sugary drinks, according to researchers at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam.
The scientists noted that a brain volume reduction of 3.6ml is equivalent to one year of aging.
Study author Meike Vernooij said the link between better overall diet quality and larger total brain volume was not driven by one specific food group, but rather several food groups.
"There are many complex interactions that can occur across different food components and nutrients and according to our research, people who ate a combination of healthier foods had larger brain tissue volumes," she said.
"People with greater brain volume have been shown in other studies to have better cognitive abilities, so initiatives that help improve diet quality may be a good strategy to maintain thinking skills in older adults.
"More research is needed to confirm these results and to examine the pathways through which diet can affect the brain."
The study tested 4,213 people in the Netherlands with an average age of 66 who did not have dementia.
Participants completed a questionnaire asking how much they ate of nearly 400 items over the past month, and researchers ranked the quality of each person’s diet, according to Dutch dietary guidelines, with a score from zero to 14.
The average score recorded was seven.
Participants were then given brain scans using magnetic resonance imaging to determine their brain volume, the number of white matter lesions on their brain and any small brain bleeds.
The results did not suggest that diet was linked to white matter lesions or small brain bleeds, but, as mentioned, it does appear to influence brain volume.
Vernooij noted that because the study was a snapshot in time, it does not prove that a better diet results in a larger brain volume, but rather shows an association.
The study was also limited by the fact it was self-reported and may not be representative of populations outside the Netherlands, she added.