It has long been claimed that a Mediterranean diet is good for your health, but a new study suggests it may benefit the brain as well as the body – and could help slow down brain ageing.
A study by academics for the journal Neurology found that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet lost less brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not stick to the diet as closely.
The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruit and vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains such as wheat and rice with moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine and limited quantities of meat.
Study author Dr Michelle Luciano of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland said: “As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory.
“This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”
Researchers began studying the diets of 967 Scottish people who did not have dementia aged 70.
Of those people, 562 had an MRI brain scan at around age 73 to measure overall brain volume, grey matter volume and thickness of the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. From that group, 401 people returned for a second MRI at age 76.
The study claims dietary difference explained 0.5 per cent of the variation in total brain volume – an effect that was half the size of that due to normal ageing.
The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain volume, such as age, education and having diabetes or high blood pressure.
There was no relationship found between grey matter volume or cortical thickness and the Mediterranean diet.
While it is widely claimed that fish is “good for the brain”, the scientists behind this latest study believe the benefits they saw were not brought about simply by eating less meat and more fish.
“It's possible that other components of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for this relationship, or that it’s due to all of the components in combination,” Dr Luciano said.
She added that the study differed from previous studies because it followed people over at least three years whereas previous studies examined brain measurements at just one point in time.
She said: “In our study, eating habits were measured before brain volume was, which suggests that the diet may be able to provide long-term protection to the brain.”
And it is often advocated by dieticians and nutritionists as an effective way to lose weight or stay slim because it delivers higher amounts of so-called “good” fats but is relatively low in sugar and harmful trans-fats.
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