- Researchers say a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by helping cleanse the brain.
- Experts add that Mediterranean diets can also lower inflammation and blood sugar levels.
- They recommend filling up on Mediterranean-style foods and then supplementing with other items only if you’re still hungry.
Eating a Mediterranean-style diet may help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s the conclusion of a new study published May 5 in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Researchers reported that eating a diet high in unsaturated fats, fish, fruits, and vegetables and low in dairy and red meat can help cleanse the brain of the protein buildup associated with memory loss and dementia.
They reported that study participants who followed the diet more closely performed better on cognitive tests and showed less brain volume shrinkage and protein biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s.
Memory testing showed that the participants who didn’t follow the diet as closely did not perform as well.
What experts have to say
These findings are not a surprise to nutrition experts Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, a nutritionist and the author of “Skinny Liver,” and Caroline West Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Being that unsaturated fats, fish, fruits, lentils, and vegetables comprise the majority of diet, those following the diet are benefiting from higher amounts of brain healthy nutrients,” Kirkpatrick told Healthline.
“Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, specific minerals, and protein consumed sustainably through this dietary pattern are a boost to brain health and may contribute to reduction of the risk of several chronic diseases,” she added.
Passerrello says the results are not surprising. A large body of evidence shows that what we eat influences our memory skills.
“I believe this research is getting specific and indicating one reason why these specific foods and nutrients may be beneficial,” she told Healthline.
Benefits beyond brain health
The Mediterranean diet has been voted the “best overall diet” the past four years partly because nutrition experts swear by its simple yet effective way of changing the way we eat to include more plant-based options and less red meat and sweets.
It is recommended by the American Heart Organization as a way to help people achieve their recommendations for a healthy dietary pattern.
“The Mediterranean and DASH diets have been proven to boost brain health as well as improve heart health,” the Heart Association states on its website. “In one study, the healthiest eaters at age 50 had a nearly 90 percent lower risk of dementia compared with those who had the least healthy diets.”
Kirkpatrick says the Mediterranean diet reduces risks of:
- chronic disease (as well as controlling symptoms of disease)
- cardiovascular disease (good for heart health)
- overall mortality
It also offers:
- anti-inflammatory properties
- better blood sugar
- lowers body mass index (BMI)
Passerrello says eating a Mediterranean-style diet can:
- improve fertility
- fight certain cancers
- ease depression
- improve eye health
Start without ‘starting a diet’
Nutrition experts recommend the Mediterranean diet because they say it’s less of a diet and more of a lifestyle change.
“This diet is probably one of the most sustainable a person can transition to in their life because it is so unrestrictive,” Kirkpatrick said.
“The best advice I can suggest when following the diet is to remember not to take advantage of proportions,” she added.
Kirkpatrick’s tips for success:
- Fill up: Quell your hunger with the base of the diet (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil).
- Supplement: Now add the other layers (fish, dairy, poultry, eggs) of the diet in smaller amounts if still hungry.
- Treat yourself: Then, if able to follow this, treat yourself with wine, sweets, etc.
“Focus on foods to include, rather than avoid, whenever possible,” Passerrello said.
Her menu planning advice:
- Daily: Include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and unsaturated oils like olive oil
- Twice a week: Eat fish and seafood
- Swap: Trade salt for herbs and spices
- Treat: Consider your portions and frequency of meats and sweets