Eat smart. Go Mediterranean.

Carey Shore, MS, RD, LD

By Carey Shore, MS, RD, LD 
Lead Wellness Coach
Methodist Health System

It's no secret that the Mediterranean diet boasts a variety of benefits. Eating a Mediterranean diet is associated with longevity, gut health, and even improved mood. And according to research published in “Experimental Gerontology,” there’s another benefit to consider — better cognitive function as we age.

The thinker’s diet

A team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, wanted to observe potential associations between diet and the thinking skills and brain health in seniors.

They gathered data from over 500 people who were 79 years old and did not have dementia. Along with answering a survey about their eating habits, these individuals completed a series of questions to test their memory, problem-solving skills, and actual speed of their thinking. Three-hundred-fifty-eight of the participants also underwent MRI scans so the researchers could assess their brain structure.

What they found

The study findings suggest that sticking with a Mediterranean diet as you age could be a good way to keep your mind sharp. In particular, “eating more green leafy vegetables and cutting down on red meat might be two key food elements that contribute to the benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet,” study co-author and researcher Janie Corley, PhD, says in a news release, noting that these seemed to be the strongest factors associated with better cognitive function.

Interestingly, a Mediterranean diet did not change the physiological health of the study participants (as in more gray or white matter, as shown by the MRI). However, the diet did show that it has an impact on memory and overall cognition.

“In our sample, the positive relationship between a Mediterranean diet and thinking skills is not accounted for by having a healthier brain structure, as one might expect,” explains Corley. She said that there may be other associations with structural or functional brain activity or effects on specific regions of the brain rather than the whole brain.

The takeaway

We’d all like to stay sharp as we age. According to this research, the principles of a Mediterranean diet may help us do just that. Luckily, it couldn’t be easier — or tastier — to try, with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean sources of protein, and healthy fats to choose from. So start eating wisely!

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