How the Mediterranean Diet Could Keep You Smarter
A recent study shows that following a Mediterranean diet could reduce your risk of experiencing cognitive decline as you age by improving thinking skills and memory.
What exactly is a Mediterranean diet? Well, it’s certainly not a diet that requires you to only eat grapefruit, or avoid all carbohydrates. A Mediterranean diet balances key nutrients and emphasizes fresh, whole food choices. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and a moderate amount of red wine make up a typical diet. Just make eating these delicious foods every day a habit and that may be all you have to do to help keep your thinking and memory skills sharp well into your senior years.
To test the link between the Mediterranean diet and improved brain function, researchers looked at the dietary habits and cognitive function of nearly 4,000 Greek participants aged 65 and older. The researchers gave the participants two different diet scores: one reflected how well they adhered to the traditional diet of the Greek population, while the other represented how well participants met the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
The research team assessed the participants’ cognitive decline every three years, by measuring such things as word memory and basic math skills. Out of a maximum score of 55 on the Mediterranean diet scale, the average study participant received a 28. Those with higher scores on the diet scale were found to have slower cognitive decline over time, even after accounting for other factors.
This translated into some pretty significant differences amongst the participants. For example, if there were two older adults of the same age with Mediterranean diet scores 10 points apart, the participant with a 10-point higher score would perform mentally as if she or he were three years younger than the other participant.
In contrast, better scores based on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines (less fish, legumes, red wine than the Mediterranean diet) did not appear to influence rates of cognitive decline.
The researchers concluded that traditional Mediterranean foods may protect the brain from damage, reduce oxidative stress and lower inflammation.
If you’re unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts of a Mediterranean diet, here’s a quick break down for you:
- Lots of plant foods
- Fresh fruit for dessert
- High consumption of beans, nuts, cereals and seeds
- Olive oil as the main source of dietary fat
- Cheese and yogurt as the main dairy foods
- Moderate amounts of fish and poultry
- No more than about four eggs each week
- Small amounts of red meat each week (compared to the average U.S. diet)
- Low to moderate amounts of wine
- 25% to 35% of calorie intake consists of monounsaturated fat
- Saturated fat makes up no more than eight percent of calorie intake
About the author
Dr. Victor Marchione received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years.
Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The Food Doctor newsletter.
Dr. Marchione has also served as Principal Investigator in at least a dozen clinical research projects relating to serious ailments such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).