Mediterranean Diet Could Help Keep Your Memory Sharp As You Age, Study

Muna Hassan

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The positive health benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet have been studied and reported on for years. A new study out from researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland reports that those following a Mediterranean diet also benefit from better cognitive function as they age.

By assessing the link between diet, thinking and brain health in seniors, the authors of the study concluded that adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet could help keep a person keep their memory sharp as they age.

How the Study was Conducted

To conduct this study, researchers gathered data from 511 individuals who had a median age of 79.3 years old (± 0.6 years). These individuals did not have dementia.

Participants were asked to complete a 130-item food frequency questionnaire that helped researchers determine eating habits and patterns. Following this, participants went through a series of questions that tested their global cognitive function, visual and spacial awareness, thought processing speed, memory and verbal ability.

In addition, 358 participants also underwent MRIs so researchers could assess brain volumes and white matter microstructure.

After all the data was gathered, the research team utilized statistical models to analyze whether or not there were associations between diet and cognitive skills as people age.

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Key Study Findings

Researchers found that people who follow a Mediterranean diet tended to have higher cognitive scores than those who did not follow this diet. This was even true when accounting for other factors -- such as childhood IQ, smoking, physical activity and other health factors.

Janie Corley, Ph.D., from the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences and one of the study's co-authors, said in a statement:

"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."

While the study determined that following a Mediterranean diet could be beneficial to memory as a person ages, there was no link between following the diet and more gray or white matter in the brain.

Corley went on to explain further that:

"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. It's possible there may be other structural or functional brain correlates with this measure of diet, or associations in specific regions of the brain, rather than the whole brain, as measured here."

In the end, researchers concluded:

"These observational findings suggest that adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with better cognitive functioning, but not better brain structural integrity, in older adults."

Other Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has been well-studied over the years, and continues to show positive health effects for those adhering to the mostly plant-based diet. Aside from improved memory as a person ages, here are some other health benefits of following a Mediterranean diet.

  • Reduces the risk of developing heart disease
  • Aids in weight loss and weight loss retention
  • Reduces the risk of suffering from a stroke
  • Helps prevent or manage type 2 diabetes
  • Reduces pain in those suffering from arthritis
  • Protects against some forms of cancer
  • Reduces blood pressure and LDL cholesterol
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Tips to Adhering to a Mediterranean Diet

If you're considering following a Mediterranean diet, here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Up your intake of fruits and vegetables. Try to get at least 2 servings of fruits and/or vegetables in each meal and snack for a total of 7 to 10 servings per day.
  • Choose whole grains. Instead of white pasta, bread and cereal, opt for the whole-grain version. And remember, there are plenty of other whole grains you can add to your diet, such as quinoa, farro, and bulgur.
  • Use healthy fats. Substitute olive oil for butter when cooking to increase the use of healthy fats. Additionally, try adding some nuts and seeds to your daily diet.
  • Make more seafood. Eat fish twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices. Grilled fish tastes good and requires little cleanup. Avoid deep-fried fish.
  • Limit red meat. Minimize the amount of red meat you consume on a daily and weekly basis. Instead, eat more fish, poultry or beans. When you do opt for red meat, eat it in small portions.
  • Eat small amounts of dairy. Opt for low-fat Greek or plain yogurt as well as smaller portions of cheeses.
  • Keep the flavor. Try keeping your intake of slat down by increasing the amount of herbs and other spices within your meals. These will boost the flavor while simultaneously decreasing the need for salt.

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Muna has been a journalist and fitness professional for more than 10 years. With degrees in exercise science and dietetics, Muna focuses on informing people about how to lead a healthier lifestyle. Muna is the owner of Body and Mind by Muna, an online gym for at-home workouts, as well as MuslimahFit, a fitness app for women.

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