Could the Mediterranean Diet Improve Brain Health?

Time to head to the olive bar, uncork the vino and grill up some fresh fish for dinner because research indicates that the Mediterranean diet may not just be good for your heart and waistline, but for your brain, too!


The study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, followed 7,400 volunteers between the ages of 55 and 80 for more than six years. The individuals were chosen based on their high risk of heart disease due to factors such as diabetes, family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being a smoker or being overweight.

mediterranean diet

The individuals were divided into three groups – two of the groups were put on diets meant to mimic the Mediterranean diet (one of the diets substituted olive oil for butter and margarine and the other increased the intake of heart-healthy nuts rich in omega-3 fatty acids).

The third group, the control group, was given advice to follow a low-fat diet (the typical recommendation for preventing heart attack and stroke).

After six and a half years of living on their respective diets, 500 participants were given two standardized tests used to determine their risk of cognitive impairment, a formal way to say ‘a person’s risk for dementia’.

The results indicated that the two groups that were placed on the Mediterranean diets showed improved cognition as compared to those on the low-fat diet. The scientists believe that the risk of developing dementia is lower in those that follow the Mediterranean diet as compared to those that follow the typical low-fat diet to control heart health.

What’s Behind this Health Benefit?

Lead researchers on the study indicate that the healthy monounsaturated fats from the olive oil and nuts may be the key element in improving mental functioning. Processed foods are loaded with saturated fats and are proven to slow us down mentally and physically, while monounsaturated fats are easy on our arteries.

Other sources, however, have indicated an alternative possibility for the decreased risk of cognitive decline.

In countries like Spain, where this study was conducted, and where citizens follow the Mediterranean diet, there is a certain amount of respect shown towards eating a meal. These individuals make a meal an experience – sitting at the table, talking to family and friends and enjoying their food.

Perhaps the increased relaxation and socialization has something to do with individuals’ decreased risk for dementia, or if not, at least it’s a nice way to enjoy a healthy meal!

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