This study may give new meaning to the term “brain food.” It turns out that if you’re eating a Mediterranean-style diet — particularly one rich in green leafy vegetables and low in meat — you’re more likely to stay mentally sharp well into your 70s.
It's generally accepted that people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea live longer and suffer less than most Americans from cancer and cardiovascular issues. And much of the benefit is tied to their diet.
The foundation of the Mediterranean diet includes:
Meals are built around these plant-based foods. Moderate amounts of dairy, poultry and eggs are also central to the Mediterranean Diet, as is seafood. In contrast, red meat is eaten only occasionally.
Now we may soon be adding brain health to the list of good things a Mediterranean-style diet can improve for you. So, let’s take a look at what the study found and what it may mean as you age.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh tested the thinking skills of more than 500 people aged 79 and without dementia.
All of the participants were asked to complete several tests that could be used as a baseline. The tests consisted of problem-solving, thinking speed, memory, and word knowledge, as well as a questionnaire about their eating habits during the previous year.
More than 350 members of the group also underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan to gain insights into their brain structure.
Researchers used it to look for links between a person's diet, thinking skills and brain health in later life.
Results show that, in general, those who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet had the highest cognitive function scores. Even when researchers accounted for things like childhood IQ, smoking, physical activity and health factors. They say the differences were small but statistically significant.
They also believe that the individual components of the diet that appeared to be most strongly associated with better thinking skills were green leafy vegetables and lower red meat consumption.
The study found no link, however, between the Mediterranean-style diet and better brain health.
The bottom line appears to be that sticking with a Mediterranean diet can benefit your memory and thinking skills as your age. One thing to remember is that the Mediterranean diet is not “one size fits all.” You can adjust your diet to fit your needs. In fact, the Mediterranean Diet pyramid is designed to help you easily determine the types and quantities of food you should eat.
In other words, there isn't just one Mediterranean diet. Greek people eat differently from Italian people, who eat differently from the French and Spanish. But they share many of the same principles.
Even a low-carb Mediterranean Diet plan will work. It’s an eating pattern that is modeled after its namesake diet, but limits higher-carb foods like whole grains. Unlike a regular low-carb diet, a low-carb Mediterranean Diet, emphasizes more fatty fish instead of red meat and more extra virgin olive oil instead of fats like butter. But there is no decrease in the amount of leafy-green vegetables you should eat.
The fact of the matter is that you can start eating healthier right away, just by making subtle changes to your diet. And our guide “Eating Healthier On A Busy Schedule” can help you. In it, you’ll find tips on how to choose healthier foods, prepare them, and actually find the time to eat them.