The Mediterranean diet, consisting of foods that are staples for people in southern Europe, has been shown to have significant health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
The main characteristics of eating like those in Italy and Spain is the use of healthy fats, with virgin olive oil serving as the main fat source. Mediterraneans also eat a high intake of fruits, nuts, vegetables and a moderate to high intake of fish and seafood. Those on a Mediterranean diet typically have a low consumption of dairy products and red meat, and they drink red wine regularly and in moderation.
A new study has found another reason to begin eating this way. Researchers have discovered that a Mediterranean diet can improve and preserve mental capacity more effectively than low-fat diets. They found that people were able to lower their risk of dementia even if they switched to eating this way later in life, and the benefits were significant after just six years on the diet.
The study included 522 men and women aged 55 to 80, who were considered to have a high risk of cardiovascular disease. Participants were divided into three groups. One group was put on a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil, another put on the diet with added mixed nuts, and a control group was put on a low-fat diet consistent of what is normally recommended to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
After an average of 6.5 years on the respective diets, participants were tested for dementia and cognitive decline using a series of mental tests.
Both groups on the Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairments. They were also significantly at less risk of developing dementia during the study period. These groups scored higher on mental tests compared to the group on the low-fat diet.
The researchers found their findings were consistent even when accounting for other factors like age, exercise levels, and family history of dementia.
They concluded that a Mediterranean diet with either an added amount of extra virgin olive oil or an added amount of mixed nuts was better for preventing dementia than a low-fat diet.
It very well may be a tastier way to eat, too. So, load your plate with those healthy fats, produce, and fish, and raise a glass of red wine to better brain function.
Martinez-Lapiscina E, et al. Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry; published online 13 May 2013. doi:10.1136/jnnp-2012-304792.