In Summary

  • The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) can improve your mind, as well as your heart. 
  • The MedDiet slows cognitive decline, improves cognitive function and may prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

New research from Swinburne shows that the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) can improve your mind, as well as your heart. 

The study shows that following the MedDiet slows cognitive decline, improves cognitive function and may even prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Lead author Roy Hardman from Swinburne’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology analysed the results of 135 studies conducted between 2000 and 2015, including 18 that specifically focused on how a Mediterranean diet impacts your brain over time.

"The most surprising result was that the positive effects were found in countries around the whole world. So regardless of being located outside of what is considered the Mediterranean region, the positive cognitive effects of a higher adherence to a MedDiet were similar in all evaluated papers,” Mr Hardman says.

The main foods in the MedDiet are plant foods, such as leafy greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, beans, seeds, nuts, and legumes. The diet is also low in dairy, has minimal red meat and uses olive oil as its major source of fat.

Attention, memory, and language improved. Memory, particularly, was positively affected including improvements in: delayed recognition, long-term and working memory, executive function and visual constructs.

Why is a higher adherence to the MedDiet related to slowing down the rate of cognitive decline? Mr Hardman says the MedDiet offers the opportunity to change some of the modifiable risk factors.

"These include reducing inflammatory responses, increasing micronutrients, improving vitamin and mineral imbalances and changing lipid profiles by using olive oils as the main source of dietary fats, maintaining weight and potentially reducing obesity, improving polyphenols in the blood, improving cellular energy metabolism and maybe changing the gut micro-biota, although this has not been examined to a larger extent yet."

The research is part of a larger study examining the effects of the MedDiet and aerobic exercise on older Australians. The study aims to understand the cognitive effects of the MedDiet on over 100 Australians aged 60 to 90 who are living independently within aged care facilities and identify as mentally healthy.

Hardman and his team believe that research in this area is important due to the expected extensive population aging over the next 20-30 years. The use of diets, such as the MedDiet, will be an essential tool to maintain quality of life and reduce the potential social and economic burdens of manifested cognitive declines like dementia.

This research was published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition