The study, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, looked at the diets of about 400 Scottish people in their 70’s over a three-year period. During this time, researchers took MRI scans of the participants to analyze their overall brain volume and thickness of the brain’s cortex.
They found that people who consumed a Mediterranean-like diet were less likely to lose brain volume as they aged, compared to those who didn’t follow such a diet.
This is not the first study to suggest health benefits with the Mediterranean diet. Prior research has found that it can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and premature death, as well as improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels and metabolic rates that lead to those conditions.
Another study published in Neurology in 2015 found that the brains of individuals who consumed a Mediterranean diet were about five years younger than the brains of people the same age who chose other diets.
In that study, researchers looked at the brains of 674 people who were an average age of 80-years-old. They asked the participants to fill out surveys about the foods they consumed over the previous year, and scanned their brains with an MRI. The group that ate a Mediterranean diet had heavier brains with more gray and white matter, the researchers found.
“The previous study only measured brain volume at a single time point, whereas we had longitudinal measurements: two measurements three years apart,” said Michelle Luciano, a lecturer of psychology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and lead author of the recent study. “We also looked at two components of the diet, meat consumption and fish consumption, and neither of these had an individual effect on brain volume loss. It might be that the diet as a whole is beneficial, and it is the combination of the foods and nutrients that protects against, for example, vascular disease and inflammation, which can cause brain atrophy.”
Another benefit of the Mediterranean diet is that it’s easy to follow. It involves eating mostly plant-based foods: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and nuts. You can eat fish and poultry several times a week, and you don’t have to avoid carbs; in fact, you should have up to three servings per day.
Good news for wine lovers, too. One or two glasses per day is perfectly fine. What you do have to limit is the amount of red meat, dairy and saturated fat you consume. Cook more with olive oil, as opposed to butter.
Bottom line: you’ll likely be happier, healthier, and mentally stronger well into your old age if you stick with the Mediterranean diet.