What if the key to a healthier brain is as easy as a change in your diet? Our expert weighs in on a new study and what should be on your plate and what you should avoid.
(via Reuters Health) Have you heard about the Mediterranean diet? While it may conjure exotic images of coastal cuisine and culture, it’s actually much simpler than that: a low-fat diet rich in fruits and veggies, beans, grains, chicken and fish.
And according to a new study, it doesn’t only pack a powerful health punch for your heart — with daily inclusion of olive oils and nuts, it’s good for your brain, too.
“The diet teaches you ways to change your lifestyle to eat healthier and maintain a healthy weight,” says Caitlin Griffin, the Outpatient Dietary Educator at Renown Health. “People who follow a Mediterranean diet generally have lower rates of type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, better protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and improved rheumatoid arthritis, compared to people who follow a typical Western diet.”
Over the years various studies have shown the heart healthy benefits of the Mediterranean diet — such as lower rates of heart disease and high blood pressure (hypertension) — but now it looks as though it may also improve memory and cognitive function in older adults.
The study from Spain looked at 447 older adults who were at risk for cardiovascular disease. They divided them into three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with one liter of extra virgin olive oil each week; a Mediterranean diet along with 30 grams of nuts per day; and a low-fat diet.
After four years, the participants were re-evaluated with cognitive function tests and their results?
- The group following the Mediterranean diet with olive oil experienced significantly better cognitive function
- The group eating a Mediterranean diet with nuts saw significant improvements in memory
- The low-fat group saw a decrease in memory and cognitive function.
Though the results are promising, they aren’t definitive just yet and scientists say more research is needed.
Even so, dietitians say there’s no downside to trying the Mediterranean diet. But if you’re thinking of making the switch, remember this is more about lifestyle than simply a diet and daily physical activity is just as important as the changes on your plate.
And keep in mind, avoiding unhealthy foods with trans fats and saturated fats is just as important as focusing on the good ones.
“A diet high in ‘unhealthy’ fats has been shown to not only negatively affect heart health, but also accelerate cognitive decline, impair memory, and is linked with an increased risk of dementia,” Caitlin says.
And as with everything, it’s all about balance and moderation, “It is important to remember, there is no single nutrient or food that is responsible for all health ailments. It is more about a person’s overall dietary pattern, lifestyle, as well as genetics,” she says.
Want to Try the Mediterranean Diet?
To start this diet, you’ll want to focus on generous portions of the following:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains along with nuts, seeds, beans, legumes
- Olive oil
- Skinless white meat chicken and turkey
- Seafood twice a week for omega-3 fatty acids
- When cooking, use olive oil
Limit or exclude the following:
- Limit red meat
- Limit baked goods, ice cream and chocolate bars and breaded or creamy-sauced veggies and fruits
- Replace whole-fat dairy with low- or non-fat options
- Avoid margarine, butter, lard and mayonnaise
- Avoid sunflower, peanut, sesame, palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils
And, if you want to focus on your brain health but don’t want to go all out on the Mediterranean diet, there are some “super foods” you can incorporate into your routine. “Almost any fruit and vegetable for their antioxidant properties will help with brain health for all ages,” Caitlin says.
She recommends the following for antioxidants:
- Apples with the skin
- Sweet potatoes
And she says nitric oxide boosters will help improve circulation and are found in the following:
- Beets and beet juice
- Leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, arugula and spinach
- For a vitamin B boost: brown rice, quinoa, and whole grains
- For vitamin D: fish and dairy