Why is the Mediterranean diet touted as the best for brain health? Can the Mediterranean diet slow down age-related cognitive decline?
While there is no general consensus on the perfect diet for brain health, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the Mediterranean diet comes close. This diet consists largely of olive oil, nuts, fish, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Learn about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for brain health.
The Mediterranean Diet
Although it’s difficult to know exactly how foods interact in our bodies, recent studies point to certain diets as being particularly healthy. For example, a Mediterranean diet is extremely beneficial to brain health.
Of these foods, berries and leafy green vegetables are especially good for the brain. One reason for this is that they are high in fiber. Fiber is beneficial because it changes the way your body metabolizes food. If you don’t have enough fiber in your diet, the carbs you consume will be absorbed more quickly, which increases your blood sugar and insulin levels, contributing to cognitive decline. Gupta also points out the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils like olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial in the maintenance of neurons.
Gupta cites several studies that show the benefits of a plant-based Mediterranean diet for brain health. But why, other than being rich in fiber, are leafy greens and berries so good for us? What exactly are omega-3 fats doing in our brains? What other nutrients does a Mediterranean diet provide?
Leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, and cabbage, contain many essential nutrients. Vitamin K, magnesium, B vitamins, and calcium are found in leafy greens and are essential for cell function as well as bone density. Leafy greens are also high in vitamin A, which improves the immune system. Studies show that increasing your intake of greens by one serving a day can lower your risk of diabetes by up to 9%. This is due not only to the low sugar content but also to the high levels of magnesium, which helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Like greens, berries contain many nutrients. Berries also contain antioxidants, which help reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been linked to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Berries also have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Dark-colored berries are especially helpful in fighting chronic inflammation.
Furthermore, getting omega-3 fatty acids from your diet is important because the body can’t make them from scratch, and they play an integral role in the function of cell membranes. Omega-3 fats also help make hormones that regulate blood clotting, blood flow, and the inflammatory process.
But the Mediterranean diet is good for your brain for other reasons, too. One study examined the substances that a Mediterranean diet provides, and identified eight nutrients linked to healthier cognitive functions. These include omega-3 fatty and omega-6 fatty acids, lycopene, vitamin D, and the B vitamins riboflavin and folate. The researchers also mention that it’s not just the individual nutrients that affect brain health, but the way they are collectively processed, which is why a varied, balanced diet is so important.
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- The steps you can take to prevent cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s
- How to keep your brain strong and resilient throughout your life
- Foods to eat and avoid to maintain brain health