Mediterranean diet linked to healthier brain

A small study in Spain found that a Mediterranean diet with extra nuts and olive oil might help improve memory in older adults.  

As always, the results will certainly require further research but the results sit nicely with previous research..  At Healthy Performance we’ve previously reported that a Mediterranean diet has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers, as well as lowering the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  

They new research randomly assigned 447 older adults at risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) to follow one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with a litre of extra virgin olive oil a week, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 30 grams of nuts a day, or a low-fat diet.

At the start of the study, participants were around 67 years old and typically overweight, but not obese. Many of them had high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

All the subjects had cognitive function tests at the start of the study, but only 334 of them, or about 75 percent, completed a second round of brain evaluations at the end of the trial (after around four years of follow-up) to assess the impact of the diets. Dropouts were equally distributed among the three diet groups, and had slightly worse cognitive function at the start of the study than the participants who stuck with the experiment.

Based on the brain function tests done before and after the study, the group eating low-fat foods had a significant decrease in memory and cognitive function.

The group following a Mediterranean diet with supplemental nuts had significant improvements in memory, while the group adding extra virgin olive oil experienced significantly better cognitive function.

In terms of an actual diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, however, the researchers only identified 37 people who developed that condition during the study, and the diets didn’t have a significant effect on the risk for that diagnosis.

The brain is made up of 70% fat, and gets fats from foods people eat.  One of the most common fats in the brain is oleic acid, an unsaturated fat found in nuts, olive oil, sunflower seeds and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids are also important for brain health, and found in fish, walnuts and soy foods.