The Mediterranean diet improves cognitive skills in old age
People who eat a Mediterranean-style diet, especially one rich in green leafy vegetables and poor in meat, are more likely to remain mentally active throughout life, according to a new study from the University of Edinburgh. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet has been associated with higher scores on a series of memory and thinking tests among adults in the late 1970s, the research found.
Markers of healthy brain aging – such as a higher volume of gray or white matter or fewer white matter lesions – did not differ between those who regularly consume a Mediterranean diet and those who do not.
The latest findings suggest that this predominantly plant-based diet may have benefits for cognitive functioning as we age, researchers say.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh tested the thinking skills of more than 500 people, aged 79 and without dementia. Participants were tested for problem-solving skills, thinking speed, memory and vocabulary, as well as a questionnaire about their eating habits in the previous year.
More than 350 people in the group did a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to get information about the structure of their brain. The research team used statistical models to look for associations between a person’s diet and thinking skills and future brain health.
The findings showed that, in general, people who adhered to a Mediterranean diet had the highest scores in cognitive function, and the individual components of the diet that seemed to be the most strongly associated with better thinking skills were leafy vegetables, greens and a smaller intake of red meat. Researchers say the latest findings add to evidence that a healthier lifestyle, of which diet is an aspect, is associated with better thinking skills in later life.
Dr Janie Corley of the University of Edinburgh School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Science said: “Eating green leafy vegetables and reducing red meat consumption could be two key food items that contribute to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. In our sample, the positive relationship between a Mediterranean diet and thinking skills is not explained by a healthier brain structure, as we might expect. 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.”
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