A Mediterranean diet may not only promote physical health – it could benefit your mind, too. A new review of existing research has determined that a diet containing high amounts of olive oil, vegetables, fruit, and fish could help ward off brain aging and associated neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. While the findings came short of establishing a causal relationship, they nonetheless identified a correlation between higher adherence to the diet and lower rates of mental decline.

“Mediterranean food is both delicious and nutritious, and our systematic review shows it may help to protect the aging brain by reducing the risk of dementia. While the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and dementia risk is not new, ours is the first study to systematically analyze all existing evidence," study author Iliana Lourida said in a press release. Lourida is a researcher with the U.K’s National Institute for Health Research Collaboration Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula.

Published in the journal Epidemiology, the study combined data from 11 observational trials with a randomized control trial. Nine of these studies were found to support the hypothesis that a Mediterranean diet both improves brain function and lowers the risk of developing dementia. The research was conducted at the University of Exter, U.K.

Aside from being the first systematic survey of previous studies, the research effort identifies inconsistencies and gray areas requiring further inquiry. By addressing these issues, future research will hopefully be able to clarify the correlation, and eventually determine whether a causal relationship is at play.

"Our review also highlights inconsistencies in the literature and the need for further research. In particular, research is needed to clarify the association with mild cognitive impairment and vascular dementia," Lourida said. "It is also important to note that while observational studies provide suggestive evidence, we now need randomized controlled trials to confirm whether or not adherence to a Mediterranean diet protects against dementia."

According to the Mayo Clinic, a Mediterranean diet relies on fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, and nuts as the foundation of every meal. In addition, the diet emphasizes:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

Red wine in moderation is also a plus. Enjoy!

Source: Lourida I, Soni M, Thompson-Coon J. Mediterranean diet, cognitive function, and dementia: a systematic review. Epidemiology. 2013; 24:479–489