A Mediterranean diet is good for the mind as well as the heart, new research shows.
Nutritionists from the University of Navarra in Spain found seniors who added extra virgin olive oil, mixed nuts, and other staples of the Mediterranean diet to their meals were able to boost their brainpower more than those following a low-fat diet.
The findings, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, are based on a review of the dietary habits of 522 men and women — 55 to 80 years old.
None of the study participants had cardiovascular disease, but many had type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol, were overweight, had a family history of early cardiovascular disease, or were smokers.
Researchers divided the participants into groups, two of which followed a Mediterranean diet — with added olive oil or extra mixed nuts, in addition to the diet’s heavy emphasis on vegetables, fish and seafood, moderate red wine intake, and low consumption of dairy products and red meat. Another group was advised to follow the low-fat diet typically recommended to prevent heart attack and stroke.
Participants had regular check-ups with their family doctor and quarterly checks on their dietary compliance. After an average of 6.5 years, researchers tracked the participants for signs of cognitive decline using standard evaluation tests of higher brain functions, memory, language, attention span, abstract thinking, and other mental skills.
The results showed 60 participants had developed mild cognitive impairment — 18 on the olive oil-supplemented Mediterranean diet, 19 on the diet with added mixed nuts; and 23 on the low-fat diet. Another 35 people developed dementia — 12 on the added olive oil diet, six on the added nut diet, and 17 on the low fat diet.
The average scores on both tests were significantly higher for those following either of the Mediterranean diets compared with those on the low-fat option.
The researchers acknowledged that the study involved a small number of people, but said the findings add to the growingbody of evidence suggesting the Mediterranean diet can protect cognitive function in the aging brain.
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