Mediterranean Diet Can Improve Cognitive Health

olive oil with nutsThe Mediterranean diet is commonly known for its cardiovascular benefits, as well as its brain health benefits, which is why it is emphasized in the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™. Now, further evidence has proven its effectiveness in delaying cognitive decline. A recent study published by the American Medical Association has found that a Mediterranean Diet supplemented with antioxidant-rich foods is associated with improved cognitive function.

Researchers from the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain, studied 447 cognitively healthy men and women aged 55 to 80 years old to assess whether their diet would affect their cognitive performance. The participants were healthy except for their high cardiovascular risk due to smoking, hypertension or the family’s medical history. All participants were randomly assigned to follow one of three diets from 2003 to 2009: a basic, low-fat diet, the Mediterranean diet with 1 liter of extra virgin olive oil a week or the Mediterranean diet with 30 grams of mixed nuts a day. A series of cognitive assessments was administered at the start of the study and after four years to analyze the effects of the three diets on brain functioning.

Changes were observed in three main areas: memory, frontal cognition, which is attention and executive function, and global function, or overall brain health. Executive function includes cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, reasoning and cognitive flexibility. In all measurements, both of the Mediterranean diet groups outperformed the low-fat diet group. In fact, the low-fat diet group declined on most of the cognitive tests. Those who had more olive oil improved their memory scores, while those who consumed more nuts improved their frontal cognition scores.

Although the participants in this study were cognitively healthy to begin with, their cardiovascular risk put them at greater cognitive risk. Those with heart-related risk factors have an increased risk of stroke which could impair cognitive function by stopping blood flow to the brain. The study found that the Mediterranean diet not only delayed cognitive decline but also improved cognitive performance in the older individuals with cardiovascular and cognitive risk. This study adds to the growing evidence that the Mediterranean diet boosts brain health and is still beneficial, even for individuals who begin following the diet later in life.

The Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, vegetables, beans, unrefined grains and fish along with moderate consumption of wine. Full-fat dairy products and meat are eaten sparingly. Dr. Emilio Ros, the lead researcher in this study suggests that everyone can improve their diet by adding 5 tablespoons of olive oil and a handful of nuts daily, and also by increasing their fish and legume intake.