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    Traditional Japanese diet could help stave off dementia

    Forget about the Mediterranean diet and bring on the sushi. 

    New research has revealed that eating a traditional Japanese diet might be helpful at staving off dementia and cognitive decline, especially for women. 

    While the typical Japanese diet is characterized by rice, fish, shellfish and citrus fruits, a traditional diet is a little more unique, writes study author Shu Zhang, a research fellow at the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology. The traditional diet also incorporates foods like seaweed, miso (fermented soybean paste), green tea, pickles and mushrooms. 

    A traditional Japanese diet includes lots of fish, miso, green tea and mushrooms. Rido – stock.adobe.com
    Researchers found that a traditional Japanese diet was helpful at staving off dementia among women specifically. FomaA – stock.adobe.com

    Previous research has already shown a wide variety of health benefits for some of these foods — like green tea and fish — so it’s not surprising that combining them only increases their potential positive effects. 

    “Following a traditional Japanese diet may be beneficial for brain health – and better for it than the typical Western diet is,” Zhang writes in The Conversation. A typical Western diet, in the case of this study, included one that was high in refined carbs, fatty foods, soft drinks and alcohol.

    For the study, which was published in Nutrition Journal in March, researchers looked at a sample of 1,636 Japanese people aged 40 – 89. The researchers found that 589 people followed a traditional Japanese diet, while another group ate a Western diet (697 people), and another small group (350 people) followed a diet that was primarily plant-based (grains, vegetables and fruits). 

    The researchers collected a variety of lifestyle factors and then over the next two years, they measured brain atrophy, which is considered to be an indicator of cognitive decline and dementia, by taking regular MRI scans of the participants. 

    Japan is known for having a population that lives longer, healthier lives, with lower rates of chronic disease. volff – stock.adobe.com

    What they found was striking: Women who followed the traditional Japanese diet had less brain shrinkage compared to those who followed a Western diet. Notably, the diet only had an effect on women. Men who followed either the Western diet or the Japanese diet didn’t appear to have any difference in their brains.

    Researchers speculated there could be a number of reasons for the differences, including both biological and lifestyle factors. Negative habits — like smoking — that might counteract a healthy diet, were found to be more comment in men. Men were also more likely to stray from a strictly traditional diet, and consumed more noodles (refined carbs) and alcohol.

    Japan, which contains one of the world’s five “blue zones,” is known for having a population that lives longer, healthier lives, with lower rates of chronic disease than many other parts of the world, according to the Daily Mail

    The traditional Japanese diet is high in polyphenols, phytochemicals and unsaturated fatty acids. banusevim – stock.adobe.com

    Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones Solution,” notes that just 6.7% of people living in Okinawa have dementia, for example, compared to over 11% in the United States. 

    The traditional Japanese diet is thought to be good for an aging brain because it is high in polyphenols, phytochemicals and unsaturated fatty acids, all of which can help lower inflammation in the body, reports the Daily Mail.  

    “All of these components are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects – which basically means they help keep the brain and its neurons working their best,” Zhang writes.

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