A modified Mediterranean diet-one that is rich in nuts, olive oil, vegetables, and legumes, but low in meat and butter-may be good for your brain. At least this is what a small study done in Spain has found.
The finding about cognitive health is an offshoot of a study on the effects of the Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular health. Researchers in Barcelona studied 447 volunteers who were healthy but who were at high risk for cardiovascular disease in a nutritional intervention trial. The average age of the participants was 67. They had all undergone a neuropsychological assessment at the start of the study and 334 agreed to be retested at the end. They were randomly assigned either to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil, one supplemented with mixed nuts, or to a control diet that was low fat. They stayed in the study for an average of 4.1 years.
The study found that the people who ate either the diet with olive oil or with nuts showed improvements in their cognitive function. The group who ate a low-fat diet had a decrease in memory and cognitive function.
However, only 37 people in the study developed mild cognitive impairment and which diet they followed did not appear to play a significant role in their risk.
This finding about a diet rich in nuts or olive oil is from a small study. The data was taken from a study that was performed for another purpose. The Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants and oleic acid, one of the most common fats found in the brain, which would contribute to brain health. Previous research has found a link between the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers. It has also been linked to a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. But these reductions in risk may be due to other lifestyle factors instead of or in addition to the diet.