The evidence just keeps accumulating that if you want to preserve your mental acuity in old age, there's nothing better than eating a healthy diet. A new study published in the journal Neurology on May 6 looked at a large international data set and found that the people who scored the highest on a healthy eating scale significantly reduced their chances of experiencing mental decline over a five-year period.

The study, conducted by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, examined the eating habits of nearly 28,000 people 55 and older from 40 different countries. The researchers ranked the participants' diets on a scale from healthy to unhealthy, taking into account the full picture of what each person consumed. Foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and soy products were considered healthy, while deep-fried food, sugary sweets and red meat were considered unhealthy.

They found that the people who scored in the top quintile for healthy eating were 24 percent less likely to experience cognitive decline over the course of the five-year study. Eighteen percent of people in the least-healthy quintile showed some cognitive decline, while only 14 percent in the healthiest quintile did.

The researchers emphasized that it's important to take into account the healthiness of the whole diet, not just consumption of certain foods.

"[T]he consumption of 'healthy' choices may be beneficial, but the effect may be lost/reduced with the consumption of 'unhealthy' choices. For example, the beneficial effect of fruit may be lost if prepared with high amounts of fats or sugars. Our data suggest that an overall healthy diet is more important than the consumption of any one particular food," study author Andrew Smyth told Forbes.

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