A Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia while improving attention, memory, and language skills, a new study has found. The study published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition reveals that elderly people who eat plenty of fish, lean meat, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats may benefit from better brain health.

A new meta-analysis of 18 articles adds to the evidence that a Mediterranean diet can not only slow cognitive decline, but also improve cognitive function by lowering the risk for cognitive impairment later in life. A research was conducted by Roy Hardman, the lead author of the study, and his colleagues, all of whom studied the Mediterranean diet's effects on cognitive processes over time.

"The most surprising result was that the positive effects were found in countries around the whole world,” Hardman, from the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at the Swinburne University of Technology, said in a press release. “So regardless of being located outside of what is considered the Mediterranean region, the positive cognitive effects of a higher adherence to a MedDiet were similar in all evaluated papers.”

The findings show that attention, language, and memory are improved among those who ate a Mediterranean diet, with major improvement in memory. Several improvements in delayed recognition, long-term, and working memory, executive function, and visual constructs have also been noted.

“The MedDiet offers the opportunity to change some of the modifiable risk factors [of cognitive decline]," Hardman said. "These include reducing inflammatory responses, increasing micronutrients, improving vitamin and mineral imbalances, changing lipid profiles by using olive oils as the main source of dietary fats, maintaining weight and potentially reducing obesity, improving polyphenols in the blood, improving cellular energy metabolism and maybe changing the gut micro-biota, although this has not been examined to a larger extent yet.”

Researchers believe that a MedDiet could be an “essential tool to maintain quality of life” and reduce the potential risks of cognitive declines like Alzheimer’s and dementia. "I would therefore recommend people to try to adhere or switch to a MedDiet, even at an older age," Hardman advised in the press release.

In July, another study revealed that a Mediterranean diet rich in "healthy" fats that include those found in olive oil, eggs, nuts and fatty fish, could lower risk of heart disease, breast cancer and type 2 diabetes.

In the paper, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last month, researchers reviewed 332 previous studies and analyzed about 56 of those studies, taking a close look at the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet that included a lot of fat.

Source: Hardman RJ, et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean-Style Diet and Effects on Cognition in Adults: A Qualitative Evaluation and Systematic Review of Longitudinal and Prospective Trials. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2016.