Your movie theater go-to might be healthier than you think.
New research suggests that incorporating more whole grains — like popcorn — into the diet was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline.
The study, published in the journal Neurology on Wednesday, found that people who ate more whole grains were 8.5 years younger cognitively than those who ate smaller amounts.
“With Alzheimer’s disease and dementia affecting millions of Americans, finding ways to prevent the disease is a high public health priority,” study author Dr. Xiaoran Liu said in a statement.
“It’s exciting to see that people could potentially lower their risk of dementia by increasing their diet of whole grains by a couple of servings a day.”
Whole grains included in the study were some breads and cereals, quinoa and popcorn. One serving of whole grains was defined as one ounce of food, which would be about “one slice of bread, a half cup of cooked pasta or rice, an ounce of crackers or a cup of dry cereal.”
To determine this, the researchers from Rush University in Chicago observed 3,326 people, at an average of 75 years of age, who did not have dementia, 60% of whom were Black.
The patients, who were followed for approximately six years, completed a survey regarding their diet and routinely underwent cognitive and memory tests every three years.
Based on the questionnaire responses, the participants were categorized into five different groups based on whole grain consumption, ranging from those who ate less than half a serving per day to people who ate 2.7 servings each day.
Researchers noticed that Black participants were more likely than white participants to consume more than one daily serving of whole grains, which have been shown to have significant health benefits.
According to Mayo Clinic, nutrient-dense foods — such as oats, brown rice or, yes, popcorn — have been linked to lowering cholesterol, insulin levels and blood pressure. Adults should consume three or more servings of whole grains per day, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
“Whole grains are rich in vitamin B and E, and other antioxidants. They have a lot of fiber, which has been linked to a lot of health benefits, particularly related to brain health,” Liu said in a statement.
“So, we do see a lot of evidence in terms of whole grains being protective in lowering heart disease risk, and we know what’s good for the heart may also good for the brain.”
But to determine the possible role whole grains play in cognition, the researchers compared participants’ evaluations to a global cognition score, otherwise known as the gold standard used as a measure for cognitive impairment.
The team found that the global cognitive score of Black participants who consumed the most whole grains — more than three servings every day — declined slower than those who consumed less than one serving.
Their research, supported by both the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institutes of Health, could pave the way for more “tailored diet recommendations,” Liu said, although additional studies are necessary to confirm the association between whole grain intake and cognition.