The Mediterranean diet is fast becoming recognised as the world’s healthiest eating plan for helping protect the body against major illnesses and the damaging effects of aging. It’s great for brain enhancement.
It has already been shown in clinical studies to prevent depression, lower the risk of developing diabetes and protect against cardiovascular disease, as well as making the skin less susceptible to sun damage and wrinkling.
Now researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have found evidence that adopting a Mediterranean-style diet can help older people retain their cognitive powers longer.
As part of an ongoing prospective study, the Chicago Health and Aging Project, the Rush researchers, led by Associate Professor in the Department of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Christy Tangney, were able to show that sticking to the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of cognitive decline for older people.
The research was reported at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting during April at the Experimental Biology conference.
Mediterranean Diet Prevented Cognitive Decline in Older Adults
During the 15 year study, over 4,000 adults aged over 65 – men and women, black and white – were examined at three year intervals by a team of neurologists, psychiatrists and nutritionists. The average age was 75, and each had at least seven years of follow-up during the study.
Participants were asked to answer a food-frequency questionnaire, giving details of which components of the Mediterranean diet they ate and how often. The highest possible score for adherence to the Mediterranean diet was 55, but no-one achieved that.
Dr Tangney classified participants’ adherence to the diet as low, medium, or high. Low followers scored 12 to 25, medium 26 to 29, and high 30 to 45.
“Those who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet performed as if they were two years younger,” she reported.
Cardio-protective Action Cause of Mediterranean Diet’s Cognitive Protection?
Dr. Tangney’s research builds on other studies finding the Mediterranean diet preserves thinking and intellectual skills. She said it was not yet clear how the diet acted to protect older people’s cognitive powers from declining as they age, but she believed it was related to the foods’ cardio-protective powers.
“I think there’s a strong cardiovascular component,” she said. “Some of the diet components, such as the phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables, are thought to protect against neuron loss.”
Include Mediterranean Foods Each Day for Healthy Brains
“This diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, fish, olive oil, lower meat consumption, and moderate wine and non-refined grain intake,” Dr. Tangey said.
While none of the participants in her study stuck totally to the Mediterranean Diet, the high scorers who avoided cognitive decline regularly ate some Mediterranean foods. She recommended trying to include some items from the diet in each day’s meals.
Even the medium scoring participants saw some protection of their thinking and intellectual skills as they aged from eating foods from the Mediterranean diet.
“When someone incorporates a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and non-refined grains such as cereals and breads and breaks it up with a little wine, there appears to be at least some protection against cognitive aging,” Dr. Tangney said.
“Adults over age 65 should look to include more olive oil, legumes, nuts, and seeds in their diet in order to improve their recall times and other cognitive skills, such as identifying symbols and numbers.”
Components of the Mediterranean Diet
Components of the Mediterranean Diet include the following:
- fruits and vegetables: antioxidants, vitamins and riboflavin, iron, calcium and fibre
- fish: protein and omega-3 essential fatty acids
- grains and legumes: protein, complex carbohydrates, iron, calcium, zinc, B vitamins and fibre
- olive oil: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats
- wine: red wine contains the antioxidant polyphenol resveratrol