BY DANIELLE ZICKL
The foods you eat to keep your body healthy might also help your brain: The same foods you eat to protect your heart might help you avoid age-related cognitive decline, new research presented at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggests.
After studying nearly 6,000 older adults, the researchers discovered that those who consistently followed a Mediterranean diet—one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and fish, and low in processed foods and sugary stuff—were more likely to maintain stronger cognitive function later in life. In fact, they were 40 percent less likely be cognitively impaired than those who followed it less closely. That encompasses a whole range of brain-related functions like memory, thinking, and judgment.
Even with taking things like race, gender, and lifestyle (smoking, lack of physical activity, etc.) into account, their findings didn’t change.
“Although the idea that a healthy diet can help protect against cognitive decline as we age is not new, the size and length of these four studies demonstrate how powerful good dietary practices may be in maintaining brain health and function,” Keith Fargo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association Director of Scientific Programs and Outreach, said in the association’s press release.
The study’s findings are dose dependent, meaning the stronger your adherence to the diet, the better the brain effects were. But even following it a little bit is likely protective to your brain, too. Participants who were moderately compliant to the diet were 18 percent less likely to exhibit signs of cognitive impairment, an early sign of dementia.
How does the Mediterranean diet help protect your brain? The researchers aren’t exactly sure, but it’s possible that those foods contain anti-inflammatory properties, which protects against the degeneration of nerve cells in your brain, according to an earlier study from Spain.
So next time you’re prepping your meal, consider tossing in some extra vegetables—even a little goes a long way in this case. Your brain will thank you.