Gloria Hunniford and Chris Bavin investigate which of the claims about foods said to help people live longer are true.
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Hello. Now, if you'd like to know which foods can help you
live longer, then you're in absolutely the right place,
because today, we'll be identifying some,
as well as finding out if it's true that food can help beat dementia
or even, heaven forbid, make it worse.
The papers are full of headlines claiming both those things,
but they don't always tell the whole story,
so that's where we come in.
Every day, we're bombarded with conflicting information
about our favourite foods.
One minute we're told something's good for us, the next, it's not,
and we're left feeling guilty about what we're eating.
Well, we've been wading through the confusion
to separate the scare stories from the truth,
so you can choose your food with confidence.
Hello, and a very, very warm welcome to Food - Truth Or Scare.
Now, this is the programme that cuts through all those contradictory
news stories about how the foods we eat affect our overall health.
That's right, and today,
we're unpicking food's powers for good and bad,
which isn't always easy when there seems to be another headline
claiming the food we eat could be doing us untold harm, and even
upping the chances of developing some really serious conditions.
But then, turn the page, and you might find just the opposite,
with reports that our meals can help stave off or even cure
the same conditions, and help us live to a ripe old age, hopefully.
So by the end of this programme,
you'll have a much better idea of which of those stories
that you really need to pay attention to.
Coming up - does drinking alcohol delay dementia, or even cause it?
The headlines seem to come thick and fast,
but can we believe any of them?
There doesn't seem to be anything definitive coming out.
Lots of tests, but of headlines, but nothing that says, "This will help".
And, the oldest men in the world live in the Mediterranean,
and the oldest women live in Japan,
so which of their diets should you follow if you want to live to 100?
Now, here's a shocking revelation for you -
more people die from dementia than any other condition.
Look at this headline - "the leading cause of death".
Now, sadly, my sister Lena had it, and I have to tell you,
it's just the most horrible disease.
Because it's so painful,
watching this sister that you've loved for so long
almost, like, disappear before your very eyes,
and really disturbing for the family.
It's not something I've had any experience in, fortunately, but it's
something we're starting to see a lot more of in the press, isn't it?
And I think if you have it in your family, you do worry about it.
But you're right, it does seem that there's a new story about dementia
every single day.
And while lots of them focus on whether what we eat and drink
could increase our chances of getting it, or more positively,
fend it off for good, the arguments rage on,
particularly fiercely when it comes to alcohol.
Now, this is the truth - I actually don't drink that much.
But the question is, if I want to avoid developing dementia
like my lovely sister, should I give it up altogether?
For more than 50 years, heart disease was the biggest killer.
But in November 2016, that all changed.
Dementia has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death
in England and Wales.
it's estimated that a million people will have the condition.
I really hope I won't be one of them,
but it's very easy to see how the odds might be stacked against me,
because two-thirds of all people living with the condition
are female, and if one of your parents or siblings have or had it,
I've seen reports saying that your chances may be higher, too.
My sister Lena was seven years older than me,
and she'd lived with dementia for quite a number of years,
which was all very disturbing for the family.
And sadly, she died as a result about five years ago.
And I'm absolutely determined to do whatever I can
to make sure that I don't develop it as well.
But trying to work out how we can avoid the condition
is a bit of a minefield, because almost every day,
the newspapers tell us that one food or another can either increase
our chances of developing it, or help us beat it.
And nowhere is the confusion more apparent than in the conflicting
headlines about how alcohol affects the condition.
Christina MacDonald from Surrey shares my confusion.
Now, sadly, her mum Hazel died of dementia in 2016.
My mum was diagnosed officially in 2009, but I think
she'd actually had the condition for a couple of years before that.
Looking back on it, there were signs that things weren't right.
But like a lot of people, she was reluctant to go to the GP.
She could see that there was an issue with her memory,
but she blamed it on stress and old age,
so it took a long time to actually get the diagnosis.
Christina cared for Hazel for seven years after her diagnosis.
Now that, unfortunately, she's not here any more,
it has given me time to reflect and think about the future.
And also think about where I might be in, say, 10, 20 years' time -
is there a risk that I may develop it?
My mum had vascular dementia, which is linked to smoking,
high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
all of which she had.
And if you read some reports, you'll also see headlines like this one,
saying there's a very clear link between dementia and alcohol.
It's a suggestion that's made a big impression on Christina.
I've heard that, you know, there is a risk of developing dementia
pretty much solely through excessive abuse of alcohol,
and actually you'd be better off abstaining altogether.
Now, neither Christina nor I drink excessively,
but should we really stop having ANY?
Professor Margaret Rayman from the University of Surrey has analysed
the results of over 700 scientific studies
into the effects of food and drink on dementia.
So we're hoping she can set the record straight
on whether alcohol DOES present a risk.
And she totally understands the confusion.
All the headlines, for the average person who picks up the paper every day, they're always conflicting -
you know, have a glass of wine a day, don't have any alcohol at all.
It is very confusing for the average reader.
It just seems to be one of those subjects that is just...
Every study or report that you read, or headline,
will tell you something different,
so I think people are probably confused about it.
I've gone through reviews which are so-called systematic reviews,
where they look at all the studies that were ever done on such and such a thing -
in this case, sort of alcohol and dementia -
and I've looked at all of those that there have been over the last,
I don't know, 10 or 20 years,
and most of them are saying the same thing.
-What's the conclusion?
-And the conclusion is,
light to moderate drinking is good, and is associated...
I see a bottle of wine over there, are you going to show me what light to moderate is?
Well, that's 87.5 millilitres.
That's half of a 175ml glass,
which would be a normal glass of wine in a pub.
Margaret says studies suggest that drinking this modest amount of wine daily
appears to have a beneficial effect on the brain's
thinking power. But I'm afraid it's definitely NOT the case
that the more you have, the better.
So if you consistently had more than that per day,
would that significantly increase your risk?
There was quite a nice Swedish study which looked at twins,
and what they found was that more than 12g of alcohol a day
began to give you disbenefit.
Now, what I've poured here is actually 12g.
But what I find interesting is that
it's better to have a small glass of wine than have nothing at all.
In virtually every single study I saw,
some wine was better than no wine.
But while Margaret's certain that a small amount of alcohol
can have a protective effect against dementia,
others say that the evidence isn't so clear.
Dr Clare Walton from the Alzheimer's Society
is keen to focus on the damage that TOO much can do.
What we know for sure is that drinking too much is bad for your brain.
If you drink in excess,
you actually can develop a condition called alcohol-related brain damage.
That is a slightly different form of dementia,
although the symptoms are very similar.
If you stop drinking, in most cases you can bounce back,
-and you will recover.
So for people that are heavy drinkers
and their dementia might be caused by heavy drinking,
they definitely should stop drinking.
But after hearing what Professor Rayman said about the potential
benefits of light to moderate drinking,
Christina wants to know if the few glasses of wine she has each week
are helping her to delay dementia, or possibly even speeding it up.
I've read conflicting information about alcohol,
so I just wondered what your view is,
because I'm quite confused by it.
When you get down to the low,
kind of moderate levels within the guidelines,
the literature is very unclear,
so it's very difficult to pick this apart.
As far as the Alzheimer's Society is concerned,
there simply isn't enough research to prove whether
a small glass of wine really is going to help keep dementia at bay.
But reassuringly for Christina,
the Society doesn't suggest giving up completely.
Our recommendation at Alzheimer's Society is that you definitely
should not drink above the recommended limits,
because of the damage that we know about.
But if you drink within the safe limits, you shouldn't stop,
thinking that you're creating damage.
But you also shouldn't start drinking in order to protect
your brain, cos there's no really strong evidence for that, either.
While it's a relief for both of us
to hear that we CAN still enjoy a small glass of wine,
I'm struck by the fact that in general,
there's a lot of confusion and very little clarity
about what might contribute to dementia.
I think a lot of us who have dementia or Alzheimer's
in our families are feeling a bit depressed in a way.
I don't know whether you'd agree, actually.
Because there doesn't seem to be anything definitive coming out.
Lots of tests, lots of headlines,
but nothing that says, "This will help".
Are you way, way behind
when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer's research?
If you compare dementia to cancer, for example,
we're about 25, 30 years behind.
-But that's because we've only been doing research
for a much shorter period of time. Thankfully, the funding
has increased and we are making progress, but I think
that's why we still need to do a lot more research.
In the meantime, as you might imagine,
Clare shares our frustration that every piece of research
so very quickly becomes a headline suggesting concrete proof of a link
to dementia, before the truth has been definitely established.
What we try to do is look across all the studies that have been done
into one topic, and summarise them to give people kind of...
..what the truth is as far as the evidence tells us.
So my advice is don't respond to a headline -
you know, a headline is not medical advice.
Go to more reputable sources like the Alzheimer's Society or the NHS website,
and try to look across the board
what that evidence is for that particular food or drink
and how it links to dementia.
Later in the programme, Christina and I will be unpicking the truth
behind some of the other headlines around food and dementia,
and we'll be going shopping for foods that some say
we should eat more of to avoid the condition,
but others suggest we should cut out altogether.
You know, it's an awful thing to say,
but we're all living so much longer than anyone used to
that our chances of developing Alzheimer's or dementia are so much greater.
So, if there's anything at all I can do to stop it coming on,
I'm definitely going to give it a go.
But trying to find out what to eat to help you live longer
isn't as simple as you might think, because here, again,
what you read doesn't always give you the same advice.
Here it's saying a Mediterranean diet is best for you.
But it seems there's stiff competition from other parts of
the globe, for whose cuisine is the healthiest.
If you want to live to a ripe old age,
it's no surprise that what you eat will play a big part.
And the diet we've long been told is the healthiest
comes from the Mediterranean.
Some headlines claim if we all followed the Med diet,
it could save thousands of lives in Britain every year.
But others say the secret to long life is an entirely different diet
from the other side of the world - Japan.
So if I want to live to 100, which cuisine is the one to go for?
Well, to settle the argument
and to see which really IS the healthiest in the world,
I've called in registered nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed,
who reckons it's going to be a close race to call.
The Japanese diet is held to be a good one,
and possibly reducing the risk of early death as well.
The average lifespan of a Japanese female is up to about 87 years old.
In UK here I believe it's around about 81,
so they do have a very long life expectancy
compared to a lot of other countries.
But what about the Med diet?
The Mediterranean diet is backed up by a huge amount of research.
So we know that there are lots of components of the Mediterranean diet
that are very healthy and that lead us to improve our health
if we follow it too.
What's interesting here is that the headlines on either side of
this sandwich board both came from the same newspaper,
printed just six months apart.
One proclaims that Japanese food is the key to a long and healthy life,
while the other says it's following
the Mediterranean diet that saves lives.
So which message has really got through to the public?
We're going to see which of the two diets these shoppers think is the healthiest.
Come and grab the flag that you agree with the most.
Who wants to go first?
Oh, interesting, that is quite a mix.
What is it about Japanese food that you think's healthy?
For me, it's the emphasis on the fresh produce,
-particularly the amount of fish they eat.
I know that Japanese people live in general longer than a lot of other populations.
'As for those who went for the Mediterranean diet...'
You do genuinely believe that the Mediterranean diet is healthier?
I think it's more about, you eat because it's good and because you...
You take pleasure in what you eat,
-rather than just to fill your stomach.
The mix between ingredients and way of cooking.
Just like the papers, this lot are split down the middle.
So which of them is right?
Well, to find out what makes these two diets so good for us,
I'm off to do some shopping, and I'll catch up with Charlotte later.
-Thank you very much, everyone, All the best.
Now, you can understand why scientists and newspapers
can't seem to decide between the Mediterranean and Japanese diets.
One landmark study found that while the oldest women in the world lived in Okinawa in Japan,
the oldest MEN came from Sardinia, in Italy.
Clearly for both, what they ate was a major factor in their good health.
So what exactly is it about these two diets
that makes them so good for us?
I'm starting with my personal favourite, the Mediterranean diet.
It's reported to stave off cancer, protect against heart disease,
and as that headline said, could apparently save tens of thousands
of lives every year if we all ate like our cousins around the Med.
But as much as I love it, there is something that I've always wondered.
OK, I get it, the Mediterranean diet is healthy -
we've got lots of veg, we've got lots of fruit,
we've got lots of fish.
But we've also got lots of pasta, lasagne, carbonara,
processed meat, and pizza.
So maybe it's not all quite as healthy as we think.
Well, of course, the reality is that while some people might like to
think those creamy pastas and pizzas are central to the Med diet,
they're not, so don't kid yourself.
The truth is, it's a diet that relies on fresh,
simple and seasonal ingredients,
the sort of things this Italian market is full of,
and the man in charge is Andrea Rasca.
So we've got lots of lovely things here,
but if we're eating a traditional, authentic Mediterranean diet,
one that's good for us, what sort of things should we be buying?
I would start with a tomato, for instance.
Tomato is the base of the Italian diet,
-and the Mediterranean diet as a whole.
-Yeah, we'll have some of those.
-Some tomato, please.
What comes to mind immediately with tomato, and tomato sauce - pasta.
OK, I'm huge fan of pasta, but is it healthy?
-Is it good for us?
-It's freshly made, there are no preservatives,
no colourants, it's totally natural.
You can add cheese, you can add spinach, you can add meat,
but they all come from an incredibly good selection of ingredients.
-So what other ingredients do we need
to make an authentic, traditional Mediterranean diet?
Well, there is the king of all cheeses.
I love cheddar, by the way.
But Parmigiano-Reggiano has got such a long history and tradition, and the taste is just amazing.
Along with that lot, Andrea adds to my basket
more of the building blocks that make the Med diet so healthy.
Another pillar of the Mediterranean diet - the olive oil.
-You use it in so many different ways.
But the most important ingredients in our diet are
-lentils and all kind of legumes, and pulses.
It's an incredibly important part of our diet.
'Andrea tells me legumes like lentils, beans and pulses are cheap,
'nutritious and so full of protein
'that they're often used instead of meat and fish.'
We have a full menu here,
so what is missing now is something to drink, that goes along with this,
which a glass of red wine.
Red wine is, again, another of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet.
'Some might quibble over that one, but you won't find me arguing.
'And Andrea's not finished yet.
'For him, there's one final, fundamental part of the Med diet,
'and it isn't actually an ingredient at all.'
The joy of eating together, this is part of the Mediterranean diet.
And it makes you feel better when you eat it,
and while you eat it with your friends.
That's probably the most important ingredient.
Well, even with the wine, by anyone's standards,
I've certainly come away with a basket full of healthy looking stuff
to show Charlotte. And as a greengrocer,
I know just how good for you some of this lot is.
But the question is, is it going to be better
than what I'd be eating if I was following the Japanese diet?
Yuki Gomi is a Japanese food writer.
And, just like Andrea,
she's keen to stress that her diet is based around simple, fresh,
It's like, really nice, simple, super healthy, Japanese everyday.
I'm not totally surprised to see that first on Yuki's list is rice.
-Look at this big bag!
-So it obviously makes up a big part of Japanese diet.
But is it healthy?
-I think so.
First of all you need a balanced diet.
So you need some carbohydrates, and vegetables or protein
like meat or fish.
So you have to have that nice carbohydrate from the rice.
OK. We'll put that one in.
'Up next, something else I was expecting - fish.'
Any particular type of fish?
Yeah, we do a lot of different types of fish.
-Especially mackerel is great, in season now.
And salmon is very common.
-So they're good oily fishes, aren't they?
-You know, mackerel, salmon...
Oily fish, and the Omega-3 fatty acids it contains,
can help protect against heart disease. And as we'll see later,
some studies suggest they can even help fight the onset of dementia.
So with the Japanese eating almost 30 kilos of fish every year,
it just has to be one of the reasons they're healthier in old age.
'Also into the basket go mushrooms...'
Really nice, nice aroma.
It's great for protein, and high protein in it.
It's really good for you.
-It's high protein.
So far the Japanese diet IS looking as if it's particularly healthy,
-And you're in better shape than I,
so I think maybe it's... Maybe it is.
A lot of minerals, and fibres.
And the good thing is, it's no calories.
You know, so perfect for diet.
Let's get some of that!
'Altogether, that makes a really tempting, and again, I must say,
'a very healthy looking basket of food.'
'Shopping trip complete,'
'it's time to head back to nutritionist Charlotte to analyse
'and compare my Japanese and Mediterranean baskets.'
It looks like you've been really, really busy.
'And laid out in front of us like this,
'it's obvious these two diets have a lot in common.'
When you look at these diets,
you'll find that what a lot of these diets do have in common is things like fresh fruits and vegetables.
Pulses and beans and lentils make up a fairly large part of the diet.
Neither Yuki or Andrea chose to add meat to my basket, both of them
opting for traditionally cheaper alternatives instead.
Yuki's tofu and Andrea's lentils are great doses of protein -
and because they're plant-based,
they're lower in saturated fat and higher in fibre than meat,
so they're good for the heart.
The same can be said for the fish that Yuki chose,
so Charlotte thinks Andrea should have picked it too.
Oily fish, I would say,
is actually a component of both the Mediterranean and the Japanese diet,
and it's full of good protein,
it's full of healthy fats like Omega-3 fatty acids,
as well as vitamins and minerals.
And alongside the lovely fresh veg,
mushrooms from Yuki, and these tomatoes from Andrea,
Charlotte says the starchy carbs like rice and pasta
have their place too.
Carbohydrates get a bad name, but actually
carbohydrates do contribute a significant proportion of nutrients to our diet.
So for example, they give us plenty of energy,
they do tend to give us B-vitamins,
we also tend to get fibre from our carbohydrate food groups as well.
So from that point of view, they are very important.
I think what I see, certainly, in my practice
is that what we tend to do in the UK
is we overeat our carbohydrates.
-We're often told to restrict cheese,
and that is because of the high saturated fat content in cheese.
What I would say is, though, they do include Parmesan in the
Mediterranean diet quite regularly - it tends to be a small amount.
I'm going to push you for an answer -
what are we saying? Is the Japanese or is the Mediterranean diet the healthier diet?
If I had to choose based on what we've got here in front of us,
I'd probably say, yes, the Japanese diet is ticking the boxes.
But actually, the Mediterranean diet has been researched very thoroughly,
and always come out trumps in a lot of studies
so we know that there is something about this Mediterranean diet
that is very beneficial.
Well, if it sounds like Charlotte's slightly sitting on the fence,
the truth is you don't have to follow any one country's diet.
And it's common sense, really - the key to living a long life
is just eating a balance of fresh and healthy foods.
It's about context,
it's about the way that we eat as well as what we are eating...
There's no single foods that we can add into a diet that are going to
have magic improvements, because it is about our diet as a whole.
And it's all about variety,
so we've got lots of different foods in front of us here,
and that's what really good diets are about.
If you'd like recipes and ideas
for quick and simple Mediterranean dishes,
you can find them, along with more information from the series, at...
And still to come -
how cutting out just two foods stopped the debilitating migraines
that one woman had suffered for 25 years.
I just could not raise my head, I couldn't get out of bed.
It was really, really bad.
But first, earlier in the programme
I investigated those confusing headlines about alcohol in relation to dementia.
But alcohol is just the tip of the iceberg,
because there are dozens of reports about foods
also said to have an impact on the condition.
It's been declared that soup, white rice, coffee, yoghurt,
carbs and much more can beat dementia,
while we're also told that fried foods, sugar
and processed meats could do just the opposite, and speed it up.
Earlier we met Christina MacDonald, whose mum died of vascular dementia,
which is linked to high blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol.
Very keen to avoid the same fate,
Christina made changes to her own lifestyle and diet.
But it's not easy to know what advice to follow.
I'm trying to kind of be aware of, you know, what I should be eating,
but there's so many mixed messages out there that it's difficult to kind of make sense of everything.
I've got to say, I'm confused as well.
So Christina and I are going shopping.
We've gathered together some information - I mean, there have been so many headlines,
let's see if there is any truth behind them.
I've got a little shopping list - not too many things on my list -
but I thought maybe we would go off and do a bit of shopping.
My list is full of foods that the papers say could slow down dementia,
and top of the list of those reported to keep it at bay
is oily fish.
I am a big fan of oily fish,
and I do subscribe to the fact that it could be beneficial for reducing dementia risk.
Next, we're going for coffee,
which hit the front pages with claims that drinking it every day
could help reduce the risk of developing dementia.
So, do you drink tea and coffee?
I just drink coffee, but for me that's good news if it's true,
because I do like coffee.
Also going into our basket are other foods reported to be
dementia busters - rapeseed oil, olive oil, tea,
and even something that lots of us would love to have a reason
to eat more of - dark chocolate.
Now, I've heard a lot about dark chocolate,
and one of the headlines in the paper said that dark chocolate is really good for the brain.
It sounds too good to be true.
Generally, with chocolate I try to steer clear,
because I'm trying to maintain a healthy body weight.
Well, while Christina isn't convinced about the chocolate,
next on my shopping list are berries,
which we're both fairly sure have to be good for us.
Blueberries in particular are widely reported to be loaded with a type of
antioxidant believed to protect the brain from the condition.
What's your feeling about this?
I'd be interested to hear more about it.
I've heard that there is a chemical in berries, particularly,
that can actually help reduce dementia risk.
But it's just understanding, what does that chemical do?
If, indeed, it actually works.
So, according to the newspapers,
everything in our basket is potentially dementia-busting.
But are the claims actually true?
Well, we asked Professor Margaret Rayman at the University of Surrey
to look through our basket of food,
to see if any of them were as good for us as the headlines made out.
The thing that perturbs me is that nothing seems to be definitive.
There isn't much that's definitive. There are probably...
maybe up to half a dozen definitive things that you could talk about.
There's vitamin E, but it's vitamin E from foods, not from supplements.
-How do you get that?
-Well, I think I can see vitamin E sources here -
that, I think, is...
And then this, which is extra virgin olive oil.
This is what you want to use on your salads.
Margaret tells us that both olive oil and rapeseed oil
have beneficial components that are likely to reduce the risk of dementia.
-How does this resonate with you?
-I mean, I'm finding it encouraging.
I'm certainly not an expert on nutrition,
but it is encouraging to hear...
-That there are things...
And you're quoting results - you know, very concrete information.
Exactly. Exactly. It's good quality evidence.
And Margaret's very pleased to see that there's oily fish in our basket,
because there's good evidence that it can help delay dementia.
One of the components of fish oil is definitely important,
the evidence is good. Very good.
And so you will obviously get that from oily fish,
such as the salmon that we've got here, or mackerel, or herring, or sardines, or...
Fish, oily or not,
seems to be associated clearly with reduced risk.
Margaret says there's evidence, too, that three portions a week
of the berries we chose could have a positive effect.
But it seems that Christina was right to be a bit sceptical about
the chocolate. Or at least, about how much we should be eating.
This one is a dark chocolate, which I got at the House of Lords.
And the reason I asked if I could take it away
is because I suspected it was exactly the amount
you're supposed to have every day for optimum effect.
And when I got it home and weighed it, it was indeed 10g of chocolate.
10g of chocolate was the most beneficial in reducing risk.
And then if you go above that, the risk will rise.
There's a similarly mixed message with the coffee.
While Margaret believes that a couple of cups a day could have
a beneficial effect, other experts aren't convinced,
and some say too much coffee could be a problem.
But overall, the message from Margaret is one that
we've heard before - while making small changes to your diet
is a good first step, leading a healthier lifestyle
is really the key to helping delay dementia.
And in Christina's case,
the positive changes she made in her 40s came at just the right time.
If dementia's well advanced,
it's been going on in the body for perhaps 20 years,
maybe 30 years, it's too late to intervene at that stage.
So the message for all of us, really,
is that the sooner we get a healthy diet,
-the more chance there is that we might not get dementia in older age.
While research into the foods that could delay dementia continues,
at the Alzheimer's Society,
Dr Clare Walton agrees with Margaret that a substantial number
of dementia cases could be avoided if we all led healthier lifestyles.
We think about 30% of cases of dementia might be due to lifestyle
risk factors. And that's really positive news for the public.
We aren't at the stage where we can prescribe individual foods or
individual, you know, lifestyle choices that will reduce your risk.
But try and keep physically active -
that doesn't mean go to the gym,
you know, walk regularly or do something that you can try and keep yourself physically active.
And then generally, with keeping your heart healthy,
try to eat a balanced diet that is somewhat around
the Mediterranean-style, so high in fish, high in olive oil,
lots of fresh fruit and veg, and then maybe, you know,
cut back a bit on the saturated fats, the processed sugars, and the
red meat. You know, what's good for your heart is good for your head,
but we want people to know that there ARE things you can do
to reduce your risk, and they are generally the things that would keep
your heart healthy. So people shouldn't think,
"Oh, my granny had it, I'm going to get it too." That's not the case.
That's good news for you and me, then, isn't it?
I love that phrase,
it's so simple - what's good for your heart is good for your head.
Now, Christina and I came away from those interviews really encouraged,
and of course I know that the evidence isn't exactly overwhelming.
But the chance that changing what you eat or drink can help stave off
or even just delay dementia, I think, is a really positive message.
Now, while changing what you eat to boost your chances of living longer
could have some really big benefits later on in life,
day-to-day it might take a while before you start to notice any difference.
But there's one condition where, if you believe some reports,
simply cutting out a few foods could change your life overnight.
And you know, that's absolutely correct,
because about eight million people in Britain get migraines -
by the way, three times as many women as men -
and it's long been thought that food can be a key cause.
The Paralympian Danny Crates is one of those sufferers.
In fact, there are certain foods and particular situations that he thinks
are more likely to trigger a migraine -
and I'm afraid to tell you, it includes a night out.
I'm at the Sports Aid sports ball tonight.
Which means a very late night, and maybe a little bit of red wine.
So if anything's going to trigger a migraine, it could be tonight.
Well, it's the morning after the night before,
and having had a very late night - I had one two glasses of red wine -
as expected, I'm now suffering with a migraine.
I get them in the back of my right eye, it's a throbbing sensation,
it'll start off in the morning and gradually get worse during the day.
That's paired with tightness down the back of my neck and a sick feeling in my stomach.
Usually, a good night's sleep is all I need to knock it on the head.
Which means I get off lightly,
because some sufferers say their migraines can last up to 72 hours.
Now, I think I know what brings on my attacks, but there are
millions of sufferers out there in the UK that have no idea
what triggers this often debilitating condition.
You only have to take a quick look online to realise how much
conflicting information there is out there.
While it's long been thought that what we eat can trigger a migraine,
the papers can't seem to agree on whether some foods, like chocolate,
cheese and wine, will cause or even cure them.
But then I spotted a headline that did seem to have the answer.
It reported one woman's 25-year battle with migraines,
that suddenly stopped when she changed what she ate.
And now, she says, they're cured.
-Hi, Andrea. How are you doing?
-Yeah, good, thanks. Come on in.
'Andrea Henson didn't just have the occasional migraine.
'She says they were every week.'
So what would your kind of symptoms be from your migraines?
If it were one that lasts for days,
it would start off slow and then just increase.
I'd probably take medication for it, but it wouldn't necessarily work.
It might dampen it a little bit, but it would still continue. You know,
you'd wake up the next day and you think, "Oh, not again."
And Andrea's migraines went from bad to worse.
One day, she was even admitted to hospital.
It came from absolutely nowhere, there was no warning.
And it was like a stabbing pain, but all over my head.
I'd never had anything else like it.
So a very, very scary time for you and your family.
I had a really bad three months where, for a good six weeks,
I just could not raise my head, I couldn't get out of bed.
It was really, really bad.
Andrea, like me, is aware of the most common foods
that are supposed to trigger migraines,
but cutting those foods out did nothing to stop HER attacks.
Initially I thought it might be chocolate,
cos I rather like chocolate.
So I would stop eating chocolate, but that didn't help.
I cut out having fruit juices, because I thought it might be that,
but there was no improvement.
Kids, tea's up!
Andrea's whole family would suffer because of the agony she went through.
It was terrible to see your wife in pain,
There was nothing you could do for her,
there was nothing I could do to help her.
She needed the tablets to make her feel better,
but the tablets basically knocked her out. Knocked her for six.
It was only by chance that Andrea stumbled upon the first thing
that had really helped her migraines in years.
Andrea and her husband Andrew run a catering business,
and when clients asked them to cater for people with food intolerances,
the couple began to investigate.
That's when we decided to have an intolerance test.
And the test showed up...?
That I was intolerant to cow's milk and corn maize.
After the test, she cut out those foods from her diet.
Three months later, her migraines have stopped completely,
and so far, they haven't come back.
We are six months down the road, and now I haven't had one,
I don't carry any migraine relief or pain relief around with me,
I don't even think about it. It's life-changing for me personally.
You get used to feeling unwell, and when that's taken away,
it was brilliant. I feel so much better.
Andrea's very lucky.
Simply avoiding two foods has changed her life, but the chance
that those same foods will be the cause of anyone else's migraines
is very slim, because our individual triggers are all different.
Of course, that doesn't stop the papers making bold claims
about which foods can reportedly help beat a migraine,
and which can bring one on.
These types of reports come up time and again,
and are often entirely contradictory.
The idea that so-called "trigger foods" can cause migraines
is not a new one.
Previously, the most common triggers were known as the five Cs -
citrus, coffee, cheese, chocolate, and claret.
But a recent study in America has revealed
that eating cheese and chocolate, and some of the more common triggers,
could actually reduce your chances of having a migraine attack.
It's easy to see why migraine sufferers can end up
completely bewildered about what they should or shouldn't be eating.
Neurologist Professor Peter Goadsby from King's College London
has agreed to make sense of it.
-Hi, how are you doing?
'He says, although there IS a clear link between food and migraines,
'it's not as straightforward as you might think.'
So, Peter, in front of us
we have some of the trigger foods associated with migraines,
or as the headlines would call them, "the dirty dozen".
What are your thoughts on food and triggers to migraines?
What's emerged from research in the last five to seven years is that
some things we've traditionally thought of to be food triggers
are actually the beginnings of the attack.
Professor Goadsby says that in some cases, a migraine sufferer
might eat one food or another because their brain is craving it.
That craving is actually a symptom of a migraine
that's already started in the brain.
So the food simply feeds the migraine, but doesn't trigger it.
For example, they're driven to eat chocolate.
Five, six, seven hours later
they have a migraine, and they ascribe the two together.
Whereas in fact, the migraine had already started.
So if I'm understanding it right, whether I eat the chocolate or not,
the attack is going to happen?
Yes. That's the unfortunate part about it,
because the attack's actually started.
If you can recognise the early phase of the attack,
what it allows you to do perhaps is change your behaviour.
So if an attack's coming, you don't stay up late, you don't skip meals,
you certainly don't go out and have some alcohol.
You avoid the more classic triggers,
that will more or less ensure that the attack goes ahead.
Professor Goadsby says it's not that food DOESN'T trigger migraines,
but it usually only does so when combined with other factors,
like stress or lack of sleep.
So, if a combination of factors
ARE responsible, what does the Professor make of the headlines
that put the blame on particular foods?
"What triggers your migraines?
"Common culprits like coffee, chocolate and cheese
"may NOT be to blame, and could actually prevent an attack."
I wouldn't say that cheese and chocolate can prevent an attack,
but I... It is true that caffeine has...
There's a yin and yang, caffeine's been shown to have some
analgesical, pain-controlling properties, so that wouldn't surprise me.
OK, and another headline.
"Scientists think they've found why chocolates and wine cause migraines
"for some very unlucky people."
If scientists have found what's in chocolate causes migraine,
then that would be a remarkable thing, given that it's pretty
clearly established that chocolate doesn't trigger migraine.
'So there's a lot more to understand in migraines than meets the eye.
'And that's because whatever might cause one person's migraines
'probably has nothing to do with someone else's.
'There's no catch-all cause, and equally, no universal cure.'
But Charis Morgan from London has found a simple solution
to her migraines. She has been suffering with them
since she was a child, and it's been a mystery her whole life
as to what brought them on.
I had a feeling that kind of food, certain foods were a problem,
but it wasn't really until recently that I kind of came to understand
how food affected me a lot better.
When her migraines got especially bad,
she contacted a national migraine charity for help.
And they found that it was not to do with WHAT she ate, but how often.
The team identified that if Charis went too long without eating,
it could see her blood sugar drop, and that could be her trigger.
She now eats smaller meals and snacks at regular intervals,
and it's transformed her life.
It's had a real improvement, and it's really helped me
sort of have a sense of control over my headaches.
And the experts here at the Migraine Centre
believe the same could be true for other sufferers too.
Because, though everybody's triggers are different,
lowered blood sugar is a key trigger that can easily be controlled.
When I started this film, I thought the relationship
between migraines and food was an obvious one,
but I was wrong - it's clearly a much bigger picture.
So Peter, what's your top tips to help avoid an attack?
First tip is not to worry too much about food,
from a triggering point of view.
The second thing is to think about regularity -
so regular sleep,
regular meals, regular exercise,
not too much stress, not too little.
And then the only thing one shouldn't be too regular about is alcohol.
So maybe I wasn't too far off the mark
in thinking a night out could be behind MY migraines -
even if the cause isn't quite as simple as just too much red wine.
Do you know what?
I have to say, today's programme has really surprised me.
Obviously I know what we eat does have an EFFECT on our health,
but I always a bit sceptical about
how much diet might influence conditions
like migraines, or even dementia.
But it's great to know that our meals can actually be medicinal.
I know, I think that's a really interesting point.
But what I take away from today's programme is that at least strides
are being made to help DELAY the onset of dementia.
Nothing, of course, is definitive yet, but the main message is that
you should start earlier, so that's you, Chris.
But I'm afraid that's where we have to leave it for today -
thank you so much for your company,
and we'll see you again very soon to debunk more of those headlines.
-But for now, from both of us, bye-bye.
Gloria Hunniford and Chris Bavin investigate which of the claims about foods said to help people live longer are true.
Also, with claims that certain foods could stop dementia in its tracks, a woman whose mother had the condition explores whether changing her diet is the key to ensuring she doesn't develop it too.
The effects of booze on the brain are revealed, there are surprises as the team exposes how food affects migraines, and two diets, each said to be the world's healthiest, are compared to see which is best. But will it be the Japanese or Mediterranean diet that comes out on top?