We’ve all heard how a Mediterranean diet high in good oils such as olive oil, as well as vegetables is good for your health, regardless of your age. But now we’re learning just how good it really is.
In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine and reported in Time magazine, Dr. Emilio Ros from the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain and his colleagues conducted a study of 447 men and women aged 55 to 80 years to see whether changing their diet could affect their performance on cognitive tests. The volunteers were healthy but at higher risk of developing heart-related problems; some smoked or had hypertension, for instance, others had a family history of heart issues. Everyone in the study was randomly assigned to eat, for about four years, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 1 liter of extra virgin olive oil a week, a Mediterranean diet enhanced with 30 grams of nuts a day, or a low-fat diet. The researchers performed a series of brain functioning tests on the participants at the start of the study and then at the end of the study.
Both Mediterranean diet groups showed improvements compared to the low-fat diet group; those consuming more olive oil showed better memory scores at the end of the study while those eating more nuts showed improvements in executive function skills. The low-fat diet group, on the other hand, showed declines in many of the cognitive measures.
The findings support a growing body of evidence that connects the Mediterranean diet, which is high in antioxidant-rich foods like rich vegetables and fats, and improved brain function. Because researchers now believe that the brain is damaged by free radicals produced by stress, a diet that is rich in antioxidants may help to counter that harm. A previous study involving the same group of participants found similar brain benefits of olive oil and nuts, but that trial did not follow volunteers over time to measure the change associated with the dietary change.
Researchers stress that research in this area is important due to the expected extensive population aging over the next 20-30 years. They envision that the utilization of a dietary pattern, such as the Mediterranean diet, will be an essential tool to maintain quality of life and reduce the potential social and economic burdens of manifested cognitive declines like dementia.