Cognitive decline is prevalent in people who are above the age of 50, which often leads to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But did you know that you can prevent these diseases by simply following the Mediterranean diet?
Keep reading to find out more.
Researchers the world over have been looking for ways to determine how to reduce these risks and keep the brain healthy through a variety of different factors – including the person’s diet. Their work made them stumble onto something exciting and they found that when they’ve paired the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet for high blood pressure and the Mediterranean diet which is good for heart health, they determined that using this hybrid diet works best for brain health as well.
Also known as Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay or “MIND” for short, this diet program is heavy on natural plant-based foods while discouraging you from eating red meat, saturated fat and sweets. In several studies, researchers discovered that the MIND diet has the ability to minimize the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 53% and slow cognitive decline and improve verbal memory.
The MIND and Mediterranean Diet
Scientists created the MIND diet by looking at both Mediterranean diet and DASH diet, then they pick out specific foods that are the most potent in preventing dementia. Green leafy vegetables were identified as having the most naturally-occurring chemicals that fight dementia. Fruits, however, showed little effects but berries with their high antioxidant content also showed positive results.
Researchers conducted an experiment where they kept a detailed log of the eating patterns of an older adult population for an average of 4.5 years in order to find which diet trends caused people to develop dementia and which ones didn’t. Those who followed the MIND diet showed the cognitive ability of people who are 7.5 years younger than their age. This discovery is very promising, because according to some calculations delaying dementia by just 5 years will reduce the risks by as much as 50 percent!
Now let’s see how your diet compares to the MIND diet and Mediterranean diet. You get 1 point for each of the rules listed below (you can get a maximum of 15 points):
- At least three servings of whole grains a day
- Green leafy vegetables (such as salad) at least six times a week
- Other vegetables at least once a day
- Berries at least twice a week
- Red meat less than four times a week
- Fish at least once a week
- Poultry at least twice a week
- Beans more than three times a week
- Nuts at least five times a week
- Fried or fast food less than once a week
- Mainly olive oil for cooking
- Less than a tablespoon of butter or margarine a day
- Less than a serving of cheese a week
- Less than five pastries or sweets a week
- One glass of wine or other alcoholic drink a day
Although both the Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet show a significant reduction in Alzheimer’s risk, the MIND diet is more flexible, which is more suited for Americans to follow. For instance, you are required to eat fish several days a week under the Mediterranean diet guidelines (to get a healthy dose of omega-3 and other good fats), which is not so appealing to Americans.
What’s interesting about the MIND and Mediterranean diet is that you don’t need to have a perfect diet in order to benefit from it. While the adults in the study who followed both diet regimens religiously (having an average score of 9.6 out of the possible 15 points max) showed the most significant reduction in their risk of developing Alzheimer’s, the other test subjects who had a median score (around 7.5 out of 15 points) still managed to cut their risk down by more than 30%, which is quite impressive to say the least! So even if you’ll just follow one or two of the habits mentioned above, you would still experience some amazing health benefits from it – especially on improving your brain health.
Old News: The Mediterranean Diet is Beneficial
A lot of health studies nowadays are starting to realize the fact that all roads lead to the Mediterranean diet. This diet includes:
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
- Red wine in moderation
If you’re already familiar with the Mediterranean diet, then you should have all the right information needed to understand what a brain-healthy diet looks like. On the other hand, if you have almost zero knowledge about the list above, then perhaps you should just opt to eat a few of things that you think are important. For many years, researchers have been attempting to determine the key parts of this diet.
For example, one study published in 2015 (updated in 2018) did a comparative research on older adults with optimal health status who followed the Mediterranean diet with heavy olive oil or nuts versus a low-fat diet. The groups that followed the enhanced Mediterranean diet did well based on the results of the experiment, and both also showed better cognitive performances when compared to the group with low-fat diet. However, there has been no study that has been able to determine the real reason why the Mediterranean diet is very good for your brain health, that is, until now.
The New Study
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health recently published a study that looked into the eating habits of more than 7,750 people for a period of 5 – 10 years. The test subjects filled out questionnaires and were made to undergo cognitive tests of memory, language, and attention that were conducted over the phone. These data were then processed in order for the scientists to determine which dietary factors contribute in lowering the risk of cognitive impairment, as well as the dietary factors that help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Cognitive Impairment versus Cognitive Decline
Now let’s put these terms into perspective and let’s say that you’re a little curious about what your cognitive risks are in 10 years’ time.
- Cognition involves several mental abilities including thinking, memory, language, attention, and your visuospatial awareness.
- Defining the risk of cognitive impairment means how your cognition will compare to your peers 10 years from now. Will it be better or worse than theirs?
- On the other hand, your cognitive decline measures your cognition now versus 10 years later.
Fish Helps You Think — and Keeps Your Thinking Strong (Fish-Based Mediterranean Diet)
Having comb through the Mediterranean diet, researchers find that fish had the most nutrients that can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment in people. Vegetables have almost similar effects, but not nearly as potent as fish, while the rest showed non-consequential effects and are basically negligible (though they may have other non-cerebral health benefits). Fish was also linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline among all the foods that were evaluated. More fish consumption will ultimately result in a risk reduction of both cognitive impairment and cognitive decline.
The Take-Home Lesson
The researchers concluded that the Mediterranean diet is the best eating pattern that people should follow if they want to reduce their risk of cognitive impairment and decline, especially with its seafood recipes. In case you’re wondering which fish types and/or seafood you need to eat to lower your risk of cognitive impairment and decline, check out our list below:
- Atlantic mackerel
- Black sea bass
- Canned light tuna
There are some fish that you need to watch out for, because they may contain high levels of mercury. Fish like swordfish and bigeye tuna are examples of mercury-loaded seafood which you need to avoid, although you can still eat them occasionally. Read this FDA guideline to know which fishes to eat and which ones to avoid.
Your Mother was Right
I remember my mother telling me to eat my veggies and not to forget to include fish and other seafood in my diet. Well, turns out she was right all along. Did your mother say the same thing? Funny isn’t it? How our ancestors had the foreknowledge of things that took the scientific community 50 years to catch up to them and proved it with empirical evidence. It’s crazy! It’s like their intuition is tuned in to Mother Nature and She whispers sacred knowledge to them, only to leave us from the new generation dumbfounded.