A NEW scientific research shows that a Mediterranean diet is good for brain health, but what is the science behind this so-called “healthy brain” diet?
While there is no single ingredient that is sure to boost your mood or keep you sharp well into your old age, the correlation between mental well-being and a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and olive oil gets stronger every year. Here are some of the strongest conclusions cited by Scientific American.
- Fish and other foods with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids may fight depression.
- Fermented foods such as pickles and sauerkraut may decrease anxiety.
- Antioxidant-rich fruits and green tea may prevent dementia.
One of the latest findings in the field of brain health shows why Western diets (typically higher in sugar and fatty meat) can be bad for the brain. In September, University of Melbourne nutritional psychiatry researcher Felice Jacka discovered that Western diets can literally shrink your brain.
Jacka and her colleagues studied a group of adults and determined through MRI scans that after eating a Western diet for four years they had a significantly smaller left hippocampus — a part of the brain that is essential for memory formation. The subjects also experienced higher levels of mood disorders.
“The data show that the main constituents of a healthy brain diet include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish, lean meats, and healthy fats such as olive oil,” Jacka told Scientific American.
Another discovery by nutritional epidemiologist Martha Morris of Rush University in Chicago, found that combining the Mediterranean diet with a high-nutrient, low-salt diet designed to help avoid hypertension may delay cognitive decline and prevent Alzheimer’s.
Morris and her colleagues tested the cognitive ability of nearly 1,000 adults and discovered that those who had followed the combination diet had the same cognitive scores of people who were seven years younger.
A study was conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Bordeaux, who drew a connection between a Mediterranean diet and the preservation of the brain’s neuronal connections.
Key components of the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes fruits, vegetables and grains. For example, residents of Greece average six or more servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
The Mediterranean 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
- Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
- The diet also recognizes the importance of being physically active, and enjoying meals with family and friends
- Focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains
Grains in the Mediterranean region are typically whole grain and usually contain very few unhealthy trans fats, and bread is an important part of the diet. However, throughout the Mediterranean region, bread is eaten plain or dipped in olive oil — not eaten with butter or margarine, which contains saturated or trans fats.
Nuts are another part of a healthy Mediterranean diet. Nuts are high in fat, but most of the fat is healthy. Because nuts are high in calories, they should not be eaten in large amounts — generally no more than a handful a day. For the best nutrition, avoid candied or honey-roasted and heavily salted nuts.
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