Foods to assist mental health ‘next big thing’

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Nutrition to boost brain development has big potential: Ian MacDonald
Nutrition to boost brain development has big potential: Ian MacDonald

Related tags: Nutrition

Nutrition to maximise the brain development of young people will be a big area of focus for food scientists in the future, according to a leading scientist.

After the publication of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s (SACN’s) Carbohydrates and Health report later this month, Professor Ian MacDonald believed the industry would slowly shift its focus away from sugar, salt and fat reduction and onto functional foods.

“There’s a lot going on about nutrition for young people post-toddler age and onwards,”​ said MacDonald, who chaired SACN’s working report on carbohydrates.

“It’s an area you would think the industry would have looked at in close detail, and it has, but around 50 years ago. Things have changed so much since then.”

Industry should focus

Industry should focus on how to make sure a child’s diet is adequate enough to develop their full cognitive potential, said MacDonald, who is also the head of life sciences at the University of Nottingham.

Cognitive decline in the elderly would also receive more focus from industry scientists, following recent figures from the Alzheimer’s Society that claimed there were more than 42,000 cases of early-onset dementia in the UK, he added.

There were more than 20,000 cases of early-onset dementia in men and almost 21,000 in women. Around 32,000 cases involved those aged 60 to 65 and 9,710 were in people aged between 40 and 50. Shockingly, more than 700 cases of early-onset dementia were recorded in 30 year-olds.

‘Big problem’

“There’s already a lot of work going on about how to ensure an adult maintains their mental health, because cognitive decline in the ageing population is a big problem,” ​MacDonald added. “You can’t stop it, but you can slow it as much as possible, according to recent research into things such as cocoa flavanols.”

A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​ claimed cocoa flavanols could play an important role in maintaining cognitive health as people age.

The study, which was the second part of a two-part investigation, tested three drinks with varying cocoa flavanol content on men and women aged between 61 and 85 – who had no form of cognitive impairments – for eight weeks.

Those who consumed higher levels of cocoa flavanols showed a big improvement in cognitive function, claimed the paper.

The SACN report is expected to be published on Friday July 17.

Meanwhile, don't miss The Big Interview​ feature interview with MacDonald, published in the July edition of our sister publication Food Manufacture​.

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