The Mediterranean diet has been touted for its long list of health benefits, including its ability to improve heart health and ward off premature death. Now, researchers have linked it to yet another advantage: better brain health.

In a group of studies recently presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, researchers found that the traditional Mediterranean diet and a modified version known as the “MIND” diet may improve a person’s thinking skills. One United States study on about 5,900 healthy older adults found that those who followed either diet were more likely to perform better on cognitive tests.

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“Eating a healthy plant-based diet is associated with better cognitive function and around 30% to 35% lower risk of cognitive impairment during aging,” lead study author Claire McEvoy told CNN.

A separate study conducted in Sweden found similar results to McEvoy’s. Researchers looked at health data, including dietary habits, of more than 2,000 healthy older adults who followed the Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern (NPDP) diet. The diet calls for people to avoid root vegetables, sweets, processed foods, and refined grains, while emphasizing the consumption of non-root vegetables, poultry, and fish, among other foods. The NPDP diet was compared to other healthy diets, including the Mediterranean and MIND diets. Six years' worth of data revealed that those who followed the NPDP had better memory and thinking skills. Similar results were also found for the Mediterranean and MIND diets.

Lastly, a fourth study found the diets may reduce a person’s risk of dementia. Research on more than 7,000 women found that those who had dietary habits most similar to the MIND diet were less likely to develop dementia.

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It’s important to note that all of the studies were observational, meaning the participants' dietary habits were self-reported. Therefore, more research is needed to better understand the link between diet and dementia risk.

"Observational studies like these can be useful for highlighting factors linked to healthy ageing, but this type of research can't definitively answer whether specific diets can prevent dementia,” Dr. David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer's Research UK, said in a report on Medical Xpress. “While we know there are positive lifestyle changes that can impact dementia risk, it's important to remember that dementia is caused by complex brain diseases influenced by age, lifestyle and genetics."

Those who follow the Mediterranean diet eat primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fish and seafood are also part of the diet, but are recommended to eat less often than plant-based foods. Other key components of the diet include: replacing butter with olive oil, using spices instead of salt to flavor foods, and limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month, according to Mayo Clinic.

See also: Mediterranean Diet Benefits The Human Brain Thanks To Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Fruits And Vegetables

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