This Is the #1 Diet to Improve Your Memory, Study Says
There's a host of health benefits associated with adopting a Mediterranean-style way of eating, but now, new research suggests following this lifestyle can also help keep you mentally sharp as you get older.
In a new study published in Experimental Gerontology, researchers looked at more than 500 people in their 70s, both with and without dementia. Participants completed tests involving memory, word knowledge, problem-solving, and thinking speed, and their eating habits were also assessed for a one-year timeframe. They also had MRI scans that gave insights into brain structure.
Those who adhered to a Mediterranean diet—plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein like fish, and healthy fats like olive oil—had the highest cognitive function scores. That was particularly true for those with a lower red meat intake and a stronger emphasis on green leafy vegetables such as chard, kale, and spinach. By contrast, those who ate more highly processed foods tended to have poorer cognitive function. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now).
This isn't the first time this association has been made, though. For example, a research review published in Epidemiology found several studies making a connection between the Mediterranean diet and slower cognitive decline, including a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
The results are likely because this type of diet is high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which can all play a role in reducing inflammation.
"Inflammation has been implicated in a wide array of issues," says researcher Grant Shields, PhD, at the Center for Mind and Brain at University of California, Davis. "Using healthy foods for lowering inflammation throughout the body and brain can have a significant effect on everything from immune system function to mental clarity and overall resilience."
Another aspect of the Mediterranean diet that should also be emphasized is its social component, according to says Robert Greenfield, MD, medical director of non-invasive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center.
Unlike many other eating plans, this particular diet tends to highlight the roles of shopping, cooking, and eating with other people when possible. Maintaining those social connections is a hugely important way to maintain cognitive health, and has strong links to lowering cardiovascular risks as well, Greenfield says.
For example, a study in people over the age of 50 found significantly higher cardiovascular disease prevalence among those who reported higher levels of loneliness or social isolation. Similarly, another study pointed to faster cognitive decline among those with lower social activity levels.
That means, in general, what you eat is important, but so is making sure you break that whole-grain bread with others when you can.
For more, be sure to check out 30 Mediterranean Diet-Approved Menu Items at Your Favorite Restaurant Chains.