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Jun 05, 2013

Mediterranean Diet Could Prevent Memory Loss

In addition to being heart-healthy, the Mediterranean diet may also help protect our minds.

As we get older, our chances of experiencing memory loss increase. Currently, more than 35 million people are living with dementia—a decline in memory and thinking skills that can get in the way of performing normal activities—and this number is expected to double by 2030. Memory loss can be devastating for both those who have it and their loved ones, so if there was a simple way to protect our memory, most of us would do it—right? According to a recent study, simply changing your diet may be one of the easiest ways to help improve your memory and protect you from memory loss.

This study, conducted between 2005 and 2010 in Spain, was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, which covers groundbreaking research on mental health from around the world. More than 520 adults participated in the study and were assigned to either a Mediterranean diet or low-fat diet. Those on the Mediterranean diet tried to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and seafood, supplemented their diet with either olive oil or mixed nuts, and could drink wine in moderation. Participants on the low-fat diet were instructed to stick to their usual diet but reduce all types of fat—even the good kinds found in foods like fish and olive oil.

After about six-and-a-half years, participants underwent testing to evaluate their cognitive function—orientation to time and place, language comprehension, memory and similar metrics. After comparing results, researchers found that subjects on the Mediterranean diet scored significantly higher on the mental testing than those on the low-fat diet, even after taking into account factors like age, gender and family history. And among subjects on the Mediterranean diet, those who supplemented their diet with olive oil had better cognitive function compared to those who supplemented their diet with nuts.

Plenty of research has already shown that the Mediterranean diet can help improve heart health, but these findings help confirm the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and mental functioning. Memory loss is a serious problem both in the United States and globally, and experts are constantly seeking ways to help protect people from conditions, like dementia, that cause a decline in brain function. If something as simple as changing our diet can help protect our minds, it seems like an easy fix—especially given the number of health benefits already associated with the Mediterranean diet.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why does the Mediterranean diet reduce risk for heart disease?
  • The Mediterranean diet differs from traditional low-fat diets because it does not discourage consumption of fats altogether. Instead, the Mediterranean diet is full of “healthy” fats, like those found in fish, olive oil and nuts, which have been shown to have many heart-healthy benefits.
  • What are the possible health benefits of adopting the Mediterranean diet?
  • The Mediterranean diet boasts a number of possible health benefits, including reduced risk for heart disease and cancer. Research has also shown that the Mediterranean diet may help protect cognitive function.

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