Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in leafy vegetables and low in meat will help you stay mentally sharp later in life, study reveals

Spread the benefit


  • Adhering to a Mediterranean diet is tied to better memory in a new report
  • Leafy greens and less meat were the biggest indicators of mental sharpness
  • The study is one of the first to use neuroimaging to examine the diet’s impact 
  • But dietary patterns weren’t evidence of better brain structural integrity in MRIs

People who follow the popular regiment— full of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and healthy fats — have better cognitive function in later life, according to a new report from Scotland.

A group of over 500 seniors were quizzed about their eating habits and given a series of memory and thinking challenges.

Those who closely followed the Mediterranean Diet, especially by eating lots of green leafy vegetables and only a little red meat, scored somewhat better.

But there didn’t appear to be a connection between diet and better physical brain health, like as a greater volume of gray matter.

Researchers say its possible the diet affects specific areas of the brain that can’t be seen by neuroimaging the entire organ.

The traditional Mediterranean diet includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains, and lots of healthy fats like olive oil.

It contains moderate amounts of fish, some chicken and dairy, and very little sugar or red meat.

For decades, it’s been linked to everything from protecting against diabetes and Parkinson’s to decreasing the risk of cancer, heart disease and strokes.

In a recent study sponsored by Age UK and The Medical Research Council, scientists at the University of Edinburgh tested the thinking skills of more than 500 79-year-olds.

Participants were given memory, vocabulary and problem-solving tests, and interviewed about their eating habits.

MRIs were done on more than 350 subjects to gather data on their brain structures and form a statistical model to compare against.

According to the study, published in the journal Experimental Gerontology, sticking closely to the Mediterranean diet had a small but statistical connection to the highest scorers.

EXPLAINED: THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET

Consuming more fruit and fish, and fewer sugary drinks and snacks, are the most important aspects of a Mediterranean diet.

Emphasis on:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Fish and meat
  • Monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil

Less of:

  • Saturated fats, like butter
  • Red meat
  • Processed foods, like juice and white bread
  • Soda
  • Sugar

In moderation:

  • A glass of red wine here and there is fine

How you can follow it:

  • Eat more fish
  • Squeeze more fruit & veg into every meal
  • Swap your sunflower oil or butter for extra virgin olive oil
  • Snack on nuts
  • Eat fruit for dessert

That held true even when accounting for childhood IQ, activity level, smoking and other health conditions.

The association seemed strongest for those eating a lot of green leafy vegetables and little red meat, researchers said, suggesting those are crucial parts of the diet.

Strangely, the benefits in thinking power that was evident in their test scores wasn’t evident on their MRIs.

There wasn’t more volume of white or gray matter, or other structural signs of better brain function.

‘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,’ said lead author Janie Corley, a postdoctoral researcher inthe University of Edinburgh’s psychology department.

‘Though 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,’ Corley added.

The subjects were selected from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, composed of individuals born in 1936 who took part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947.

The cohorts have been helping researchers analyze agings effect on thinking since 1999.

While this study was one of the first to incorporate neuroimaging, it follows earlier research connecting the Mediterranean diet to better cognitive function.

 In January, a team from Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center found that adding in foods from a typical Western diet — such as pizza, candy and processed meats — reversed the cognitive benefits from the Mediterranean diet.

The study examined more than 5,000 seniors over three years and found those who stuck to the Mediterranean diet had brains that were nearly six years younger than their peers who gave in to junk food cravings

A 2020 report in the journal Gut found seniors put on the regimen for a year demonstrated slower cognitive loss, including with memory, compared to others who kept to their normal eating habits.

Those who adhered to the diet closely also had better walking speed and hand grip strength.

Following the diet boosted their beneficial gut bacteria, which has been linked to staving off both frailty and memory loss.

A 2018 study published in The Journal of Urology determined that men who followed a Mediterranean diet, especially one high fish, boiled potatoes, whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, and olive oil, and low consumption of juices had lower risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

Source: Daily Mail



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