According to a new study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, the Mediterranean diet, which is known for its heart-health effects, may also give a brain boost to the elderly. The diet is characterized by its use of virgin olive oil as the main fat ingredient and entails heavy consumption of nuts, fruits and vegetables. The diet also includes moderate consumption of fish and seafood and low consumption of dairy and red meat. For the study, researchers looked at 522 men and women between the ages of 50 and 80 who were at risk of heart disease. The participants were randomly assigned to either the Mediterranean diet with added olive oil or mixed nuts, or to the traditional low-fat diet recommended to prevent heart attack and stroke. They followed the diet for an average of 6.5 years and were monitored quarterly to ensure that they were adhering to the diet. At the end of the study, researchers found that those on the Mediterranean diet performed better on cognitive tests than those on the traditional low-fat diet.
“Our trial suggests that nutritional intervention with MedDiet supplemented with either EVOO or nuts is associated with improved global cognition,” wrote the study researchers. “Our ﬁndings support increasing evidence on the protective effects of the MedDiet on cognitive function.”
In addition, those on the Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment or dementia, according to the study. However, while the results are promising, they showed only a small one-point difference in the scores of those who were on the Mediterranean diet and those on the traditional low-fat diet. “The test is scored out of 30, and while the benefit is there,” said Mary Sano, PhD, director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine,” it may be too small to actively recommend the Mediterranean diet.” On the other hand, Christopher Ochner, PhD, director of research development and administration at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, said that the benefits seen in this study does indicate that it should be recommended to elderly patients.
“This study used a low-fat diet as its comparison group, which itself has some neuroprotective effects,” he said. “That means that the Mediterranean diet was not just better than a regular diet but better than another brain-healthy diet.”
While more research is needed, the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are well documented, especially for one’s heart. So it comes as no surprise that the benefits of this diet extend to your brain, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, Everyday Health Blogger. “What helps the heart helps the brain,” she said. “What this is showing is that when you eat foods that are anti-inflammatory and filled with antioxidants, they help keep your blood flowing and help your brain.”
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