Mediterranean-style diets linked to memory benefits

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26 Jul 2017 --- Eating foods that are included in either the Mediterranean or MIND diets has been linked to a lower risk for memory difficulties in older adults, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The Mediterranean diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, and fish, has been proven to have vascular and anti-inflammatory benefits and may be neuroprotective, according to the study. Neuroprotective diets are associated with better cognitive function: the Health and Retirement Study. Processed foods, fried and fast foods, snack foods, red meat, poultry and whole-fat dairy foods are infrequently eaten by those following the Mediterranean diet.

MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It’s similar to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet as well as the Mediterranean diet. It includes 15 types of foods. Ten are considered “brain-healthy” food groups: green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry, olive oil and wine. Five are considered unhealthy: red meat; butter and stick margarine; cheese; pastries; sweets; and fried or fast foods.

The study notes that dementia is a major cause of death and disability in older Americans, and therefore there is a great deal of interest in identifying lifestyle approaches like the Mediterranean and MIND diets for prevention of cognitive decline with aging.

For the study, researchers examined information on the diets of 5,907 older adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study. The participants filled out questionnaires about their eating habits. Researchers then measured the participants' cognitive abilities, mostly focusing on their memory and attention skills.

When the researchers compared the diets of participants to their performances on the cognitive function tests, they found that older people who ate Mediterranean and MIND-style diets scored significantly better than those who ate less healthy diets. In fact, older people who ate a Mediterranean-style diet had 35 percent lower risk of scoring poorly on cognitive tests. Even those who ate a moderate Mediterranean-style diet had 15 percent lower risk of doing poorly on cognitive tests. The researchers noted similar results for people who ate MIND-style diets.

This study suggests that “greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet and MIND diet was independently associated with better cognitive function,” according to the researchers. What's more, older adults who followed these healthy diets had lower risks of having cognitive impairment in later life, they note.

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