Meat and Potatoes: Associated with Poor Cognitive Function

nutrition diet healthA recent study observed an association between consumption of meat, potatoes, gravy and butter with poor cognitive function. The study that was performed on subjects in the United Kingdom, included just under 2000 elderly individuals, and the data on the types of food consumed was collected from diet recall questionnaires. Studies that report association must always be analysed with care because associations can be highly complex and are not able to be controlled as rigorously as clinical trials. Many extraneous variable can influence the associations, and it is therefore often not possible to identify the cause and effect in any association. Also, 2000 individuals is quite a small sample for a study investigating associations and so this must also be considered. That being said, the results showed that consumption of meat, potatoes, gravy and butter were associated with poor cognitive function, but not cognitive decline. This is interesting as it gives a clue as to the reason for such a relationship.

mental function

Consumption of meat, potatoes, gravy and butter as a dietary pattern is associated with poor cognitive function. However, they are not associated with cognitive decline. This suggests that the consumption of the dietary pattern in not the cause of the poor cognitive function, but perhaps that poor cognitive function is more likely to result in consumption of these foods. Clearly meat and potatoes are also not eaten in isolation, but usually with other foods, often other vegetables, and so this may suggest that the dietary pattern is not actually a health problem. Butter has a number of health effects, but none that could be linked mechanistically to a poor cognitive function. Therefore it appears that in this case the association is complex and there is no reason to avoid such foods, as long as they are moderated (as all foods should be).

What really needs to be ascertained in such a relationship is whether the consumption of the foods are the cause of the effect. So in this case, does the consumption of meat, potatoes, gravy and butter cause the low cognitive function or is the relationship caused by another factor. As stated previously it is difficult to determine this in such as study. However, because this dietary pattern was not associated with cognitive decline (as measured by following the individuals over time), it suggests that the consumption of the meat, potatoes, gravy and butter is not the cause of the poor cognitive function (otherwise cognitive decline would have occurred while consumption proceeded). Therefore it is much more likely that those with poor cognitive function, choose to eat these types of food and so this is the likely reason for the association. As the consumption of meat and potatoes often involves the addition of vegetables, it would seen unlikely that this dietary pattern would cause any major health effect if it was moderated.

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Granic, A., Davies, K., Adamson, A., Kirkwood, T., Hill, T. R., Siervo, M., Mathers, J. C. and Jagger, C. 2016. Dietary patterns high in red meat, potato, gravy, and butter are associated with poor cognitive functioning but not with rate of cognitive decline in very old adults. Journal of Nutrition. 146: 265-274

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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