For some years now, we’ve known that a Mediterranean diet is among the best you can choose to follow.
Our cousins on the Continent don’t just enjoy an adequate year-round supply of vitamin D from the sun, but their culinary habits fairly put ours to shame.
And now new research suggests a Mediterranean diet could help older adults maintain larger brains.
The Mediterranean Diet Explained
First, it’s worth looking at what constitutes a Mediterranean diet.
Many of us who venture to popular foreign destinations will tend to be handed the ‘tourist menu’, which caters to our, ah, famous whims – the less said about them the better.
A genuine Mediterranean diet is high in fibre, replete with colourful fruits and vegetables, and also includes good quality fats and proteins. Sometimes a glass of red wine filters into the equation.
The traditional Mediterranean diet favoured in Spain, Greece and other countries on the Continent is renowned for promoting health, vitality and longevity.
The way of eating in this part of the world centres largely around unprocessed and anti-inflammatory foods which help immunise the body against the evolution of heart diseases, diabetes, dementia, obesity and metabolic complications. Ingredients are invariably natural and refined sugars are virtually verboten.
Nonetheless, the cultural tendency towards such enhancing fare is so deeply ingrained that it not considered a ‘healthy’ choice or viewed as a sacrifice; rather, it is seen as a flavourful, pleasurable and natural course of action.
Many nutrients which we know are worthwhile but tend to overlook form the foundation of the Mediterranean diet, including: cereal whole grains, wild-caught fish, beans and legumes, olive oil, nuts and seeds, high-quality eggs and cheeses.
The Special Properties of Olive Oil
Olive oil perhaps deserves a special mention, since a bottle of golden olive oil is what many of us picture when we hear “Mediterranean diet” mentioned.
On the Continent, olive oil is drizzled with almost merry abandon on a multitude of dishes, meaning natives enjoy a plentiful supply of vital omega-3 fats.
We’ve written about omega-3s often in the past, stressing their important role in everything from blood cholesterol to heart and brain health. If you’re not getting enough omega-3s in your diet, it’s something you should look to remedy post-haste.
Mediterranean Diet for Brain Health
So, what about that new study then? It was the good folks at Edinburgh University – who famously reviewed our Energy Plus Water Filter a few years ago – at the helm, and they investigated the effects of a Continental diet on pensioners right here in Scotland.
The results showed that those who followed a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruit and olive oil had healthier brains than those with alternative eating habits.
Published in the latest edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the results reiterate what many nutritionists have been stating for some time: that the typical ‘Western’ diet is having a harmful effect on our health.
The Scottish study, which analysed the effects of nutrition on 401 subjects over the age of 70, showed that Med dieters suffered less brain shrinkage than their contemporaries who favoured higher quantities of dairy products and meat.
The study was conducted over a three-year period and adds to the now considerable – and unavoidable – body of evidence touting the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, particularly as it pertains to brain health.
The study’s authors noted that diet accounted for about half the variation in brain volume seen across the participants, and the same results were experienced when adjustments were made for other possible contributory factors, such as education, age and high blood pressure.
Another study out of Holland, published in early 2017, followed up 63,000 women aged 55 to 69 over a period of 20 years and found that following a Mediterranean diet slashed one's risk of deadly breast cancer by 40 per cent.
Is Your Diet Deficient? The Time for Change is Now
If you’re reading this and muttering, “Those Mediterraneans don’t half have it good,” you’re missing the point entirely. You decide what goes into your body, no-one else; and just because you don’t live beneath the searing sun on the Med doesn’t mean you can’t take a leaf out of their book where nutrition is concerned.
If you already eat healthily and exercise frequently, you should of course focus on sticking to the same path – though maybe you, too, could make improvements.
Achieving peak health might have been one of your New Year's resolutions; if so, you'd do well to enshrine the tenets of the Mediterranean diet in your mind.
Opt for food that’s natural and low in sugar but also high in protein, fibre and omega-3s. It’s not a sacrifice – it’s good, healthy, tasty food and it's ultimately what your body needs to operate at full capacity.