A new study, appearing in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, suggests that we are not powerless with regard to arresting deteriorating brain health, and that the Mediterranean diet can guard against memory loss.

The study comprised two groups – one group was given a high olive oil and nuts Mediterranean diet and the other group a low-fat diet.

At the start of the research, a battery of cognitive tests was given to assess the brain and memory speed of the participants.  After about four years on the diets, the tests were repeated a second time.

Lower-fat diet group worsened on cognitive tests

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“What we see here is that the control diet group [the people eating the lower-fat diet] worsened on their cognitive tests,” Emilio Ros, a researcher at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona and the lead author of the study, says.

However, those following the olive oil and nut rich diet appeared to guard against age related memory decline, since they scored better than those on the low-fat diet did.

iQoncept - Fotolia.com
iQoncept – Fotolia.com

Mediterranean diet prevents cognitive decline

“The key finding here is that this [Mediterranean] diet is preventing decline,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

When you put the two findings together, they build on the evidence that eating a heart-healthy diet can also protect the brain.

Study may not be conclusive

It’s also possible that part of the cognitive effect may not be directly related to diet. “It could be that the people on the Mediterranean diet are also changing some other aspect of their lives,” says Murali Doraiswamy, a brain scientist at Duke University. Perhaps they’re walking more or smoking less.

Doraiswamy says the study is encouraging, but it’s not known whether the staving off of memory loss translates into a reduced rate of Alzheimer’s down the road.

dulsita - Fotolia.com
dulsita – Fotolia.com

The Mediterranean diet consists mainly of unprocessed food such as:

  • fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes, avocados, figs and olives
  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • beans, nuts and seeds
  • olive oil
  • some oily fish
  • very limited red meat
  • no more than five eggs per week
  • moderate wine consumption (one medium-sized glass a day for women).

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