The Mediterranean diet continues to prove why it has been named the No. 1 best diet overall by US News & World Report for seven years in a row.
A new study published in the journal JAMA Neurology found that sticking to the Mediterranean diet can keep a person’s mind sharp into old age — even if the brain shows signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
People who followed the diet scored higher on tests of cognitive functioning, despite markers of dementia in the brain after death, researchers from Rush University in Chicago found.
The Med Diet is derived from the traditional diets of 21 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – where fresh greens, fruit, fish, nuts and olives abound. It includes eating plant-based foods, grains and lean poultry along with healthy doses of extra virgin olive oil.
While it doesn’t focus on a specific nutrient or food group, the Med Diet emphasizes the importance of focusing on quality and filling your plate with a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, seafood, olive oil, and whole grains.
Using data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a study of autopsy data from 1997 to 2022 with up to 24 years of follow-up, the researchers analyzed 586 people who died at an average age of 91.
Participants had self-reported lifestyle factors in the project, including smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise frequency, Mediterranean diet and cognitive activity score.
The healthy lifestyle score was based on these factors and ranked from one to five, with higher scores indicating a healthier lifestyle and better cognitive function closer to death.
These scores were compared to the cognitive function score from the test less than a year before the participant’s death.
After death, the brains were removed from the person’s bodies and the researchers looked for signs of beta amyloid, two of the main signs of Alzheimer’s.
Dementia isn’t a specific disease — it’s a term for the impaired ability to remember, think or make decisions that interferes with performing daily activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Convention. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.
Even if the participants’ brains showed signs of Alzheimer’s, their healthy lifestyles appeared to somewhat protect them from cognitive decline, the study showed.
It’s thought the diet can help with cognitive decline because it’s so balanced – it makes you feel fuller and less likely to eat junk food and snacks.
An October 2023 study found that the Mediterranean diet may help reduce PTSD symptoms through the gut microbiome.
Other recent studies have shown that dieters can reduce their chances of early death by 29%, while women alone have shown nearly 25% lower chances of heart disease and early death.
An earlier study from Harvard University said the Mediterranean diet was one of four common healthy eating patterns that can help reduce the risk of premature death by up to 20%.