I’m so glad I came across the study I want to share with you today. Because you can’t even begin to imagine how many times I’ve talked to patients about this very topic over the course of my 30–year career in private practice: “Can I cheat here and there?”
As a diet doctor—and knowing how passionate I am about healthy eating—my answer to that question might surprise you.
I’ll return to that in just a moment. But first, I want to tell you what science has to say about diet “cheat days”…
Harsh effects of poor dietary choices
This research focused on the brain benefits of a healthy Mediterranean-style diet—with emphasis on veggies and fruit, olive oil, fish, moderate wine consumption, and some whole grains. (Not quite the same as my version of the healthy diet, but certainly better than the low-fat, high-carb diets some “experts” try to peddle as healthy.)
Researchers also asked an important question: What happens when you throw unhealthy foods into the mix—like fried foods, sweets, refined grains, and processed meat? As a reader of mine, you can probably guess what the results found. But let’s dive into the details anyway…
This study looked at more than 5,000 older adults, all part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project, conducted between 1993 and 2012. Researchers evaluated how closely each subject stuck to their Mediterranean diets. But they also looked at how often the subjects fell into Western diet patterns—that is, how often they ate high-carb, sugar-laden, ultra-processed garbage.
Then, they looked at the link between Mediterranean diet adherence scores, and changes in overall cognitive function—including memory and perceptual speed.
Unsurprisingly, the subjects who stuck most closely to the Mediterranean diet—and most restrictively limited their intake of Western junk food—were also the ones who experienced the slowest cognitive decline.
In fact, people with the highest Mediterranean diet adherence scores were the equivalent of nearly six years younger, cognitively speaking, compared to subjects who adhered to the healthy diet the least.
But more importantly, this analysis showed that Western diet patterns significantly dragged down cognitive health. In fact, the subjects who ate more of the Western diet didn’t enjoy any of the brain-saving benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
I don’t know about you, but that’s more than enough reason for me to make smarter dietary choices. Especially if eating healthy—think more leafy greens and other vegetables, fresh berries, olive oil, nuts, lean meat, and fish—means preserving your brain (and body).
Because as this study shows, if you consistently gorge on processed garbage, grains, and sweets… you’ll get caught in a lethal tailspin of inflammation, chronic disease, and cognitive decline.
Redefining “here and there”
These are the scientific facts, folks. And I’ll keep sharing the proof of smart dietary choices until I can get every last person to truly acknowledge them. And by truly acknowledge, I mean put into practice. Which means eating well every day—and limiting consumption of all those Western diet staples.
Which brings me back to the question I hear on a daily basis from my patients about whether it’s okay to cheat “here and there.”
Listen, I get it. No one eats perfectly all the time—not even me. And yes, that’s okay. (See, I told you my answer might surprise you.)
The problem is, most people seem to think that an “occasional” cheat is a daily occurrence—maybe a few fries off of their child’s plate, or splitting a dessert four ways. And it’s true that this kind of flexibility can make any diet easier to maintain.
But if you’re doing it every day, is it really a “cheat”? At that point, it’s just as much of a habit as healthy eating.
In other words, “here and there” really has to be very here… and… very there!
This new research perfectly illustrates that “cheating” on your diet isn’t completely harmless. Which is why I will always encourage you to strive to do your best, every single day.
Your body and your brain deserve your full commitment. And the payoff will be paramount for years to come.
P.S. In addition to adopting a healthy, balanced diet full of fresh, whole foods—there are a number of ways you can protect and restore your brain as you age. You can learn all about them in my comprehensive, online learning tool, my Alzheimer’s Prevention and Treatment Plan. Click here to enroll today!
“Including unhealthy foods may diminish positive effects of an otherwise healthy diet.” Science Daily, 01/09/2021. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210109152410.htm)