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50+: Live Better, Longer

Mediterranean Diet May Keep Aging Mind Sharp

Study Shows Health Benefits of a Diet Rich in Vegetables, Fish, and Olive Oil
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 7, 2011 -- A new study shows following a Mediterranean style diet rich in vegetables, olive oil, and fish may keep the mind sharp and slow age-related cognitive decline.

The diet typified by the Italians, Greeks, and other Mediterranean cultures has already been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. But this and other studies are now suggesting that the diet may also have healthy benefits for the mind.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, non-refined cereals, olive oil, and moderate wine consumption, usually at meals.

Researchers found older adults who followed the diet more closely had slower rates of age-related cognitive decline than those who didn’t, even after adjusting for other factors such as educational level.

“The more we can incorporate vegetables, olive oil, and fish into our diets and moderate wine consumption, the better for our aging brains and bodies,” says Christy Tangney, PhD, associate professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University, in a news release.

Testing Mental Skills

In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers analyzed information gathered by the ongoing Chicago Health and Aging Project, which follows 3,759 adults over the age of 65 living on the South Side of Chicago.

Every three years, the participants took tests of memory and basic math skills and filled out a questionnaire on how often they eat 139 different foods. The study follow-up time was 7.6 years on average.

Researchers looked at how closely the participants followed a Mediterranean diet and then compared it to their scores on age-related cognitive decline.

Out of a maximum score of 55 for total adherence to a Mediterranean diet, the average score was 28. The results showed those with higher than average scores had a slower rate of age-related mental decline than those with lower scores.

Researchers also looked at how closely the participants followed the Healthy Eating Index-2005, which is based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They found no relationship between adherence to this type of diet and the rate of age-related cognitive decline.

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