Results of recent studies and research demonstrate that following a Mediterranean diet potentially improves brain health and reduces cognitive decline during aging. Evidence also points to following a Mediterranean diet for heart health.
There is one important fact about the Mediterranean diet that likely appeals to many individuals, which is the fact that it is not an actual diet. It is more of a lifestyle of eating belly filling foods that promote a healthy brain, healthy heart and healthy cognitive functioning.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is not a strict diet plan. Rather than following a strict eating plan that requires counting calories, counting carbs or weighing everything that you eat, the Mediterranean diet is more of a way of consuming foods and beverages from regions and countries of the Mediterranean.
An article in Medical News Today indicates that looking to the dietary habits of individuals of southern European countries gives individuals a sense of what the Mediterranean diet looks like for those not living in those regions. Think of combining foods popular in the south of France, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Crete into your daily diet. Foods from these regions are free from refined oils popular at many grocery stores, are low in trans-fats, and low in highly processed foods and meats.
Replace saturated fats common in the diet of many Americans with the fresh fruits, vegetables, olive oil, seeds, nuts, whole grains, lean meats and other foods common to a Mediterranean diet and you potentially lower your risk of premature brain aging. You also lower your risk of early cardiovascular events and other possible health risks linked to unhealthy eating.
The Mediterranean diet is high in fiber, high in several vitamins, including B vitamins, high in minerals, and low in saturated fat. While high in natural sugar, such as the natural sugar in fresh fruits, it is low in processed sugars, which increases risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic health issues.
What does the research show about the Mediterranean diet?
Multiple studies conducted over several years demonstrate essentially the same or similar outcomes. Results of one study involved nearly 6,000 older adults completing a questionnaire about their regular eating habits. The participants then participated in cognitive functioning testing. Participants that ate a Mediterranean diet or MIND diet, a form of the Mediterranean diet, scored significantly higher on cognitive functioning, compared to the older adults not following a Mediterranean-based diet.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers recently took the testing of the relationship between diet and brain health even further than the cognitive function testing performed in the past. Scientists performed MRI scans and measured levels of nutrients in the blood of study participants.
Participants included 116 healthy adults between 65 and 75 years of age. Researchers measured the blood markers for more than 30 key Mediterranean diet nutrients’ in each of the participants.
Results showed links between nutrient biomarker patterns and results of memory testing, overall general intelligence and executive functioning of the brain. Executive function is that set of mental skills that helps you get things done in your everyday life.
Researchers report that following a Mediterranean diet “holds promise” for addressing the issues of cognitive decline and neurological impairments of the aging human brain. They plan to continue their study of the link between the Mediterranean diet and improve their understanding of how eating foods associated with areas of the Mediterranean benefits an aging brain.
How do I get started on a Mediterranean Diet?
Eating a Mediterranean diet does not change the health of your brain or reduce your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease overnight. You cannot just add broccoli and Greek yogurt to your dinner tonight and expect to see improved memory or intelligence functioning tomorrow.
While you cannot expect miraculous results overnight, there is evidence showing that eating a moderate Mediterranean diet improves functioning. If you start out substituting unhealthy fats and sweets for healthier options and gradually add other foods until you reach the full Mediterranean Diet, you still likely realize some reduced risks to brain and heart health.
Studies show that individuals engaging in a moderate Mediterranean diet had a 15 percent lower risk of performing poorly on cognitive testing.
Enjoy the foods of a Mediterranean diet and experience the likelihood of getting healthier while reducing your risks of unhealthy brain and cognitive functioning, and improving heart health. It is never too late to start getting healthier, naturally.