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Is This the Best Diet for a Better Brain?


You have probably heard about the Mediterranean diet and some of the health benefits associated with following it. From protection against diseases to better aging, there are plenty of reasons to do so, aside from the fact that it is simple to follow and delicious. Now, new research is adding yet another item to the list of reasons to consume the Mediterranean diet — healthier brain tissue.

Numerous studies have been published on the Mediterranean diet over the years. In fact, the popular diet has been shown to ward off health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, and has even been thought to be one of the best diets for bone health.

Adding to this ever-growing body of knowledge, a new study that was recently published in the journal Neurology indicates that following the Mediterranean diet may also have long-lasting effects for brain health. To clarify, while we already had knowledge about its protective ability against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but this study analyzed the actual brain volume and thickness of the brain’s cortex.

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Specifically, researchers in this study found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean style diet were more likely to retain their brain volume as they aged, compared to those who did not follow this type of diet. This exciting new study expands upon the findings of an early research project that had found that a Mediterranean diet effectively helped make brains about five years younger. As our brains naturally shrink with age, leading to an increased risk of several diseases, these findings provide valuable insight on how to slow down this process.

MRI Scans Reveal the Power of the Mediterranean diet

These findings were based on an analysis of the diets of about 400 adults, ranging in age from 73 to 76 years old in Scotland over a three-year period, while simultaneously conducting MRI scans on the participants’ brains. Among this population, those who closely followed a Mediterranean style diet were less likely to lose brain volume with age. Additionally, past research on this subject from 2015 — also published in Neurology — found similar results by examining the brains of 674 people with an average age of 80 years, and asking them to retroactively fill out food surveys about their diets for the preceding year. As both of these studies tracked large cohorts of people over a significant period of time, and came to the same general conclusions, the evidence supporting this association is powerful.

What Foods Make Up the Brain-Healthy Mediterranean Diet?

If you are not already familiar with the Mediterranean diet, then you are probably waiting to learn about how to follow the diet. Well, the good news is that it is fairly simple, and does not require much sacrifice, either. Essentially, the Mediterranean diet features meals made up primarily of plants and lean meats, and better yet, does not have stringent limits on carbs. Vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, cereals, and seafood are all key staples in the diet, and fish and poultry are recommended at least twice weekly. Carbs are recommended in three servings per day, although they should preferably consist of whole grains. Another key feature in the diet is greater use of olive oil in cooking as opposed to butter. The most significant sacrifice made by people on the Mediterranean diet is to limit the amounts of meat, dairy products, and saturated fats that they eat. However, more good news is that a daily glass of wine is perfectly acceptable on the diet. Here is an infographic that may offer some additional insight.

Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

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