Would you change your diet if doing so could actually improve your cognitive ability? A recent study conducted in Spain by JAMA Internal medicine revealed that very well might be the case for those who follow the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet is so named because it mimics the eating and lifestyle habits of those who live in the Mediterranean—countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece, just to name a few. The diet emphasizes the consumption of fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats and oils. It also allows for a moderate amount of pasta and red wine consumption. Processed foods are discouraged.
The science behind the Mediterranean Diet’s impact on brain health consists of eating lots of antioxidant rich foods. Why are antioxidants important to cognition? Antioxidants fight free radicals that contribute to cellular damage within our bodies. Cellular damage ages our bodies and causes dementia. It can result in diseases within virtually every major organ and system within the body.
The JAMA study was conducted with 447 patients in Spain, all of whom were 67 years of age or older when the study began. Over a four-year period, some participants followed a Mediterranean Diet complemented by concentrated amounts of nuts or extra virgin olive oil, while other participants followed another diet. During that time, the brain function of all participants was repeatedly tested. Of the 336 participants who completed the study, those who followed the Mediterranean Diet scored higher on cognitive tests than those who followed the other diet. Dr. Emilio Ros, director of the lipid clinic in Barcelona, sums up the conclusion of the research team, “You can delay the onset of age-related mental decline with a healthy diet rich in foods with a high antioxidant power, such as virgin olive oil and nuts.”
Heart & Brain Healthy
It’s not just the olive oil and nuts that are keeping the brain healthy, though. A nutritionist with the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center points out that the Mediterranean Diet is rich in “minimally processed foods that are plant-based and rich in monounsaturated fats”, which also make it a heart healthy diet.
Medical experts have long known that there is a link between a healthy heart and mind. The two organs are dependent upon each other in order to maintain a truly healthy balance within the body. Patients with healthy hearts tend to have healthy brains, and those with healthy brains conversely have healthy hearts. The American Heart Association conducted research that revealed that those individuals with healthy minds are more likely to have healthy hearts. The logic is fairly simple. The heart pumps blood, which carries oxygen to the brain. Without oxygen, the brain begins to die. Not only is cognitive function lost when this happens, but patients are at risk for stroke or cardiovascular disease.
The fact that there is a noticeable absence of grains from the Mediterranean Diet is almost as significant as the foods that are present in it. In his book Grain Brain: The surprising truth about wheat, carbs, and sugar; your brain’s silent killers, Dr. David Perlmutter asserts that gluten is not only responsible for interrupted memories but is actually one of the key culprits that cause diseases which affect memory and behavior, such as Alzheimer’s and ADHD. Of grains, he writes,
“Most grain foods, whether we’re talking about quinoa, amaranth, the very popular grains of the day, the reality is they still are associated with a carbohydrate surge. They have a fairly high glycemic index, meaning that after 90 to 120 minutes, your blood sugar is going to go up, and that is detrimental to the brain.”
Notice he is stating that even gluten-free grains are not good for the brain because of their high glycemic index which causes sugar spikes. So, he recommends avoiding even gluten-free grains, if possible.
Surges in blood sugar lead to another major disease with which Americans contend: diabetes. Avoiding the consumption of bad carbohydrates that cause “brain fog,” a condition that affects memory and the ability to focus and even causes disorientation in some instances, allows the healthy fats and antioxidants present in many foods in the Mediterranean Diet to do their jobs uninhibited. In short, the somewhat surprising conclusion that can be reached from the results of the JAMA study is that food really does have a direct impact on health! Healthy foods produce a healthy mind and body.
Tips for a Healthier You
So how can one eat smarter to stay smarter? According to a Health.com article, the key things to remember are as follows:
- Eat 10 cups cooked or at least 5 cups of raw fruits and vegetables each day and consume local, in-season produce whenever possible. One cup of cooked fruits or vegetables equals one-half cup of raw.
- Consume healthy fats, such as olive oil, that are high in polyphenols (micronutrients that stave off degenerative diseases).
- Snack on a tablespoon of nuts and seeds daily.
- Have a 4-ounce serving of fish at least 2-3 times per week.
- Enjoy 1 cup of milk or yogurt or an ounce of cheese each day to promote healthy bacteria in your digestive tract.
- Don’t shy away from herbs and spices. They’re not only loaded with anti-oxidants, but many are also natural inflammatory agents.
- Drink lots of pure water.
- Take your time while eating. It improves digestion.
Another valuable action one can take is to supplement diet with Diamond Nutritionals’ Balanced Omega. This formula has the proper dose and balance of healthy Omega 3 oils, also known to improve cognitive function. It has the shortest catch-to-capsule time in the industry, ensuring ultimate freshness. This is very important, as many fish oil products sit on store shelves where they can quickly oxidize. This defeats the purpose for which they are being taken.
All of the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet considered, the decision to change one’s diet for a healthier mind and body not only seems obvious, it just seems like the smart thing to do.