Why Your Brain Loves the Mediterranean Diet

Today there seems to be a diet for everything. Whether you’re cutting carbs, eating baby food, or turning all your meals into liquids, it’s safe to say that some diets work, and some just don’t. But while the numbers on your scale are riding the see-saw, dieting can be affecting more than just your weight. One diet in particular, the Mediterranean Diet, may actually have protective brain benefits.

Study

A large new study, published in the April 30, 2013 issue of the journal, Neurology, seems to confirm that eating more fish, less dairy and even less meat has positive ramifications for the brain as long as you’re not diabetic. The association between the Mediterranean Diet and reduced cognitive decline was found in previous studies; however, this study was different because it is the largest study to date. It evaluated data from a diverse sample of 17,478 participants ranging from 45 to 98 years of age (average age was 64). Data for this study was taken from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study in which African American and Caucasian men and women disclosed information about their dietary habits, including how well they followed the principles of the Mediterranean Diet, and to what extent they avoided red meats and dairy products. Participants in the study also took tests that measured their cognitive and memory abilities over a period four years.

Results

Researchers found that healthy people who closely followed the Mediterranean Diet experienced reduced cognitive decline. Specifically, 13% who consistently ate a Mediterranean Diet were less likely to develop memory and thinking problems. However, participants with diabetes did not show positive effects from the Mediterranean Diet, possibly due to diabetes affecting brain function in different ways that have nothing to do with Omega-3 fatty acids and other dietary nutrients.

How Can You Make Your Diet More Mediterranean?

Lifestyle changes are often suggested as a method for slowing the process of cognitive decline or as a strategy for keeping the brain mentally sharp. Turning our backs on that pizza might not be the easiest of tasks, but considering there is no pharmaceutical cure or treatment for memory loss at this time, it’s a small sacrifice to make. Lifestyle changes are often suggested as a method for slowing the process of cognitive decline or as a strategy for keeping the brain mentally sharp. In order to properly follow the Mediterranean Diet, try the following:

  • High intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and cereals
  • High consumption of unsaturated fats over the consumption of saturated fats (which should be reduced)
  • High intake of fish
  • Low-to-moderate intake of dairy products
  • Low consumption of red meat and chicken
  • Moderate intake of alcohol (mostly wine at dinner) is recommended

Of course there is no guaranteeing that replacing your burger with broccoli is going to prevent memory loss, but according to the Alzheimer’s Association, studies, such as this one, do establish that lifestyle changes can provide real benefits. Research is not stopping there either. The more we study how diet and lifestyle affect cognitive thinking, the further we can verify that diets such as the Mediterranean Diet are proof positive methods for protecting our brains.

Recipes and food tips that follow the Mediterranean Diet will be posted soon so stay tuned…and hungry!

References

Wadley, V. G. (2013). Adherence to a mediterranean diet and risk of incident cognitive impairment. Neurology, 80, 1684-1692 .