Despite the reported benefits of diet on cognition in older adults, randomized controlled trials (RCT) testing the impact of dietary interventions on cognitive scores have yielded less promising results when cognition was assessed via neuropsychological tests. More recently, neuroimaging has been used to identify more subtle brain-related changes associated to cognition. Hence, employing a combination of neuroimaging techniques with neuropsychological tests could clarify this controversy.
To determine the effect of diet on cognitive performance, we conducted a systematic review of PubMed and Scopus databases for all studies, on middle-aged and older adults, combining neuroimaging, neuropsychological tests, and data on dietary patterns. The inclusion criteria were met by 14 observational studies and no RCTs. The range of brain measures assessed varied from volumes to white matter integrity, functional connectivity, brain glucose metabolism and beta-amyloid deposition. Given the variability of methods used in assessing cognitive performance, diet and brain correlates, conducting a meta-analysis was not possible.
Here the evidence suggests that, in observational studies, dietary patterns may be associated with brain correlates that have been shown to precede cognitive decline. As such, neuroimaging should be included in future RCTs to identify any benefits of diet on brain measures linked with cognitive health.