Eating This After Lunch Increases Your Risk of Dementia, Study Says
It may never get called out as such, but your afternoon snack can be one of the most important things you eat all day, if only for its ability to tide you over until dinner. But while it's common to plan out meals well in advance to heighten their healthiness, what we eat between them is often whatever is easiest and close at hand. And according to research, eating the wrong snack after lunch can even put you at a higher risk for dementia. Read on to see what types of food you should avoid during a mid-afternoon graze through the pantry.
A study published on June 7 in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia set out to better understand the connection between foods high in refined carbohydrates and the long-term risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Researchers analyzed data from the Three-City Study to test their hypothesis, narrowing down 9,294 participants from France aged 65 and older. The pool was then reduced to a subsample of 2,777 and given food questionnaires that covered all daily meals and the snacks in between them, recording everything from activity levels and total calorie intake to how closely a person followed a Mediterranean-like diet and type-2 diabetes status, Eating Well reports.
Results showed no connection between the total daily glycemic load or the glycemic load recorded at breakfast, lunch, or dinner and long-term increased risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer's at the end of a 12-year follow-up period. However, they did find that there was an increased dementia risk associated with eating foods high in refined carbs as a snack after lunch in the afternoon.
Based on the findings, researchers believe that foods consumed between mealtimes could lead to higher levels of oxidative stress in the body because they're typically consumed without anything else that could affect the way they're digested. They theorize that regularly snacking on high carb and sugary foods such as sodas, baked goods, and cereal bars in the afternoon can lead to insulin resistance over time. Eventually, that condition could lead to impaired glucose uptake and chronic inflammation, which have been linked with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, Eating Well reports.
"During meals, carbohydrates are rarely ingested alone, and their degradation and absorption rates during digestion are modified by the other macronutrients," the team wrote, noting that "the order of food macronutrient intake also changes the glycemic and insulinemic responses." They also point out that insulin resistance is more likely "when high-glycemic index carbohydrates (e.g., rice) are eaten first and then vegetables and meat, compared to eating all these foods together."
Experts say the study highlights the importance not only of being mindful of which items you're snacking on, but also correctly picking what goes into your main meals of the day. This means avoiding processed foods—especially between meals as snacks—and planning a diverse plating that rounds out the nutritional value.
"Eating more complex carbs and keeping meals and snacks balanced with fiber, fat, and protein—in addition to those carbs—can help keep blood sugars balanced," Victoria Seaver, RD, a registered dietitian and deputy digital editor for Eating Well, explains. "It's a healthy strategy for everyone for overall health, in addition to cognitive health."
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However, this isn't the first research to connect carb-heavy snacking with long-term health. A study conducted by Harbin Medical University in China and published in June in the Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed the data from 21,503 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003 to 2014 in the U.S. by looking at dietary patterns at each meal throughout the day. Members of the group were at least 30 years old at the beginning of the study and were nearly evenly split at 51 percent female. Researchers then used the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Death Index to cross-reference participants who died through the end of 2015 due to heart disease, cancer, or any other cause.
Participants were broken down into different groups based on what they typically ate as snacks throughout the day, categorizing them as grain snacks, starchy snacks, fruit snacks, and dairy snacks. The results found that participants snacking on starchy foods such as potato chips between any meals was associated with a 50 to 52 percent increase in the risk of death by any cause, as well as a 44 to 57 percent increased risk of death related to cardiovascular disease.
"Our results revealed that the amount and the intake time of various types of foods are equally critical for maintaining optimal health," Ying Li, PhD, lead study author and professor in the department of nutrition and food hygiene at Harbin Medical University School of Public Health, said in a press release. "Future nutrition guidelines and interventional strategies could integrate optimal consumption times for foods across the day."