Anyone who has ever been on our blog probably knows two things: we’re not huge fans of diets, and we love the Mediterranean diet. We know how absurd that sounds. It doesn’t work as a sentence, but it works as a fact. Diets can be highly restrictive, lack nutrients and force you to follow complicated rules. On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet is more of an eating pattern that is gentle, not too restrictive and very healthy. And, the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet just keep piling up.
It has long been known that the Mediterranean diet is excellent for heart health and weight management. New research has found that it may also help the brain stay healthy and sharp with aging and help aging overall.
A study looking at 500 people around the age of 79 found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet did better on cognitive tests than their peers. The study couldn’t prove cause and effect, but it did show a link. The researchers adjusted for health, education and IQ, and the results remained the same. The most significant differences were seen in people’s verbal ability rather than memory or problem-solving. When looking at the participants’ brains with MRIs, there were no differences in their structures.
“We could hypothesize that it has something to do with inflammation for one, as well as with other nutrients like magnesium or folate that are found in the leafy greens,” said Lona Sandon, a registered dietician nutritionist and professor of nutrition at the Univ. of Texas Southwestern in Dallas.
In addition to leafy greens, the Mediterranean diet is rich in healthy fats that aid the brain and reduce inflammation. “This helps to protect blood vessels, and it’s not just blood vessels that lead to the heart, but blood vessels that lead to the brain and everywhere else in the body,” said Prof. Sandon.
Prof. Sandon also noted that the Mediterranean diet is low in red meat. Red meat is bad for the brain because of its high levels of saturated fat.
“Cognitive decline is a risk factor for dementia, for which there is currently no cure,” said Janie Corley. She led the research team at the Univ. of Edinburgh. “Therefore, strategies to prevent or delay cognitive decline, by changes in modifiable lifestyle factors such as diet, are important in terms of public health.”
Another study found that the Mediterranean diet helps aging overall. Looking at diet questionnaires and blood tests, researchers found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had fewer signs of biological aging. They also saw a link between following the DASH diet and slower aging.
In that study, the researchers attributed the results to the high levels of polyphenols in both diets. Polyphenols are antioxidants found in some plants that have been linked to a range of health benefits. Nearly all the “core foods” of the Mediterranean diet are rich in polyphenols.
“This study reinforces what we know about the MIND Diet, which is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, which many previous studies have shown to be an incredibly beneficial combination for cardiovascular and cognitive health,” said Jessica Levinson, a culinary nutrition and communications dietitian. “The key recommendations from these two diets (and the MIND diet) are a focus on fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, lean meat, fish, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, whole grains.”
These studies give us yet more reasons to love the Mediterranean diet!