Statistically, Black Americans are 1.5 to two times more likely than their white counterparts to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and related dementias. According to a new study, eating more whole grains may protect against cognitive decline, especially memory loss. During the study, participants consumed whole grains, including cereals, quinoa, and popcorn. We’ll discuss the outcome of the study and observations in this article.
What Are Whole Grains?
Whole grains are foods eaten in their whole form and include grains like wheat, corn, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, rye, rice, and oats. They offer the “complete package,” so to speak, given that they differ from refined grains, which are stripped of valuable nutrients during the refining process. All whole grain kernels contain three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Each part offers different nutrients, some of which include B-vitamins, copper, zinc, iron, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
The research published in November 2023 monitored Black adult participants who consumed whole grains. Participants who ate more whole grains exhibited lower levels of memory decline, which equated to being a median 8.5 years younger that those who ate fewer daily servings of whole grains. Even those who ate fewer servings experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline.
Study authors are excited by the fact that eating more whole grains may reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, overall diet factors into the equation. Sure, whole grains may help the cause, but only if other dietary modifications are in place. For example, eating more foods that support brain health is a great first step, but cutting out foods that harm the brain is an equally important step.
A Benefit For Black Adults, But Not White Adults
The study took place over six years, with researchers following more than 3,000 adults with a median age of 75. None of the participants had dementia at the start of the study, and roughly 60% of the adults in the study were Black. Every three years, study participants filled out a questionnaire detailing how often they consumed whole grains. They also completed cognitive and memory tests after filling out the questionnaires. The tests involved recalling lists of words and remembering numbers to put back in correct order.
Study authors divided the participants into five groups based on the amount of whole grains they consumed. The group that ate the lowest amount of whole grains averaged less than a half serving per day, while the highest group averaged 2.5 servings per day. According to study authors, the highest amount was less than the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggested. Those guidelines suggested three to five servings of whole grains per day.
The analysis revealed that Black individuals with the highest whole grain intake showed slower rates of cognitive decline. The protective effects of whole grains were only observed in Black adults. A higher proportion of Black participants (67%) consumed more than one serving of whole grains compared to white participants (38%). Study authors observed that Black participants ate more oats, dark bread, bulgur, couscous, kasha, and other whole grain foods.
Avoid Refined Grains For A Healthier Brain
Based on the results from the study, neurology professors note that whole grain consumption may improve cognitive function and slow memory decline. In fact, whole grains may even influence the ability to think and reason. Whole grains are commonly consumed in the Mediterranean diet, for example, which is associated with better cognitive function and heart health. The main takeaway is that experts discourage the consumption of refined grains, as they don’t encourage healthier cognitive function. Whole grains may offer these benefits because of the nutrients they provide. These nutrients may fight free radicals and reduce inflammation, which have previously been associated with mental decline.