Numerous studies have found that the Mediterranean diet, or other similar dietary regimes rich in vegetables, nuts, legumes, fruits and grains, may actually help slow cognitive decline and reduce your risk of developing certain types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease [source]. Mind boggling isn’t it?
Actually it’s not. For years researchers have explored the link between healthy eating and healthy brain function. Turns out the very same proteins, antioxidants, omega-3s and vitamins (E, B, K, Folate) found in those famous superfoods everyone is always talking about do more than just help stave off diabetes, high cholesterol, stroke and heart disease – they also help protect the neurons in your brain.
Up until now however, it has been unclear just how much diet can influence your chances of developing dementia. A recent study performed at the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain brings us one step closer to finding out. The study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine this spring, assessed the brain function of 447 men and women, aged 55 to 80, predisposed or at risk of developing heart disease.
The participants were divided into three diet groups and asked to follow a specific nutrition regime over a period of four years: 1) a Mediterranean Diet with heavy olive oil consumption; 2) a Mediterranean Diet with increased nut consumption; or 3) a low-fat diet. Cognitive tests were performed on participants at the start and conclusion of the study and found that both Mediterranean Diet groups had improved memory function when compared to the results of the low-fat dieters [source].
More supporting evidence can be found in yet another 2015 study published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Based on questionnaires collected from 923 volunteers participating in the Rush University Memory and Aging Project, those who closely followed a specific nutrition regime known as the MIND diet had a 53% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Even those who only followed the diet in moderation lowered their risk by 35% [source].
The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is -as the title suggests- a mix between the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet, comprised of 4-5 weekly portions of healthy brain foods such as: veggies, leafy greens, beans, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, fish, poultry and even wine (on occasion). Red meat, butter or margarine, cheese, sweets and fried foods are to be avoided as much as possible.
While these results may point to nutrition as a key factor in maintaining healthy cognitive function later in life, it is important to remember that there are other determining factors, such as genetic predisposition.
But that shouldn’t stop you from trying; in fact, just knowing that a well-balanced diet together with regular physical and mental exercise can help keep you happy, healthy and active longer should be reason enough to change your diet today!