The Mediterranean diet may prevent dementia — here’s how to include it in your life

Nutrition: Eating a Mediterranean diet
Dietician Diana Steele has tips for eating a healthy Mediterranean diet in the new year.

By now, you’ve probably heard the Mediterranean diet can do everything from sharpen your brain, protect against stomach cancer, and improve heart health. But now, new research suggests the plant-based diet may also help prevent dementia.

According to recent research from the International Alzheimer’s Association conference in London this week, healthy older adults who followed the diet or similar diets, lowered their risk of developing dementia by a third.

Eating a healthy plant-based diet is associated with better cognitive function and around 30 to 35 per cent lower risk of cognitive impairment during aging,” lead author Claire McEvoy, of the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, tells Global News.  “This study was conducted in a nationally representative older population, so the findings are relevant to the general public.”

READ MORE: Here’s why the Mediterranean diet could preserve your brain’s health

The research

CNN reports McEvoy’s study looked at the eating habits of almost 6,000 older Americans with an average age of 68. Those who “marginally” followed the diet were 18 per cent less likely to show signs of cognitive impairment.

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And although the research is still considered observational, it still shows experts what diets can mean for brain health.

“This study adds to the limited work done to examine dietary patterns for brain health and has been conducted in a general older population,” she says. “In our study, people who had greatest adherence to the Mediterranean or Mind diet had much less risk of cognitive impairment relative to those who had low adherence. Intervention trials are needed to test if these diets can preserve or enhance cognitive function during aging.”

The diet

Abbey Sharp, a Toronto registered dietitian and food blogger, says the Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, veggies, beans and pulses, whole grains and fish.

“The Mediterranean diet is also about more than just what you eat — it’s really a lifestyle,” she tells Global News. “Daily pleasurable physical activity and sitting down to family meals is inherently part of the diet. This helps us be much more mindful in our eating to prevent overeating and restricting.”

READ MORE: Mediterranean diet slows down aging: study

The diet has a focus on monounsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts and avocado, and a lower emphasis on sweets and animal products.

Why it’s so good for you

Sharp says the reason the diet has been linked to a range of health benefits, is its focus on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and omega-3 rich fish.

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“It may also help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes thanks to its higher amounts of fibre and lower amounts of sugars and saturated fats. There is also emerging research to suggest that those healthy unsaturated fats may also play a role in brain health and reducing the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

How to include it in your diet

And as much as we would love to add more red wine into our diets and call ourselves more Mediterranean, Sharp says it’s not going to give you the best bang for your buck.

“I suggest getting more fruits and veggies into your diet. Try adding some spinach and peppers to your pasta sauce, or a handful of kale to your morning smoothie,” she says. “I also suggest swapping out meat twice each week for fish, beans or lentils.”

READ MORE: 5 lifestyle rules for keeping away dementia

In the morning, top your toast with avocado or olive oil instead of butter, or swap chips for nuts.

“Choosing whole grains over refined white pastas and breads to get more fibre for the same amount of calories.”
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