Get Smarter About Dieting: The Mediterranean Diet and Improved Brain Health

It seems as though every year, there are countless new diet trends that promise quick weight loss with minimal effort. They come with varying guidelines and ideas about boosting metabolism and speedy results, but what about a boost in brain health?

Well, the Mediterranean diet—a renewed form of dieting that has been capturing headlines over the past year—has been linked to a younger, healthier brain.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is derived from traditional culinary styles in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Places such as Greece, southern Italy and Spain all have stake in what makes up the guidelines for the popular plant/fruit-based diet.

The diet consists of foods, such as fish, legumes, olive oil, unrefined cereals, fruits, veggies, dairy and red wine (in moderate amounts). According to the official guidelines of the diet, red meat and poultry should be consumed in very limited quantities, if at all.

The reason that the Mediterranean diet is particularly unique to other dieting trends is that it does not require very drastic changes for most people. The meals that are prepared in conjunction with the diet can be delicious and extremely well-balanced.

How does the diet promote brain health?

In a recent study published by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), 967 Scottish participants (all 70+ without dementia) had their eating habits documented. Each year, the participants had MRIs to measure brain volume and the thickness of the cerebral cortex.

For the participants that followed the Mediterranean diet exactly, they retained more brain volume over the three-year study than those who occasionally strayed from it. The study also showed that people who followed the guidelines had a 53 percent less risk for Alzheimer’s.

The relation between the diet and improved brain health lies in its ability to retain brain volume. As we age, our brains naturally lose cells and begin to shrink, affecting the ability to retain memories and learn new ones. By limiting the intake of high-sugar foods and processed ingredients, toxins that can break down vital brain cells are greatly decreased. This decrease in breakdown allows for denser brain mass and an increase in gray matter, which is vital to brain function.

Is the Mediterranean diet easy to follow?

All diets take discipline if they’re to be followed exactly. There is no such thing as a “quick fix” when it comes to improving health, especially brain function. You just have to decide if it’s worth it.

By doing some research and approaching the Mediterranean diet with some dedication, the results can be quite impressive. While it has been linked to better brain health, studies have also shown the diet to improve heart health and potentially prevent strokes.

How is it different from fad diets?

Sure, there have been celebrity endorsements from the likes of Penelope Cruz, John Goodman (who lost 100 pounds) and Rachel Ray. But this fad isn’t just buzz-worthy; it’s worthy. That’s what makes it different.

Fad diets are a dime-a-dozen. They come and go as quickly as the seasons and fade into obscurity when people don’t see the results that are promised.

The Mediterranean diet has hundreds of years of proven health benefits, and the research to back it up.

From my perspective as a neurosurgeon, the benefits of achieving a healthy weight, better heart health and improved brain function all from this diet are a resounding win.

It is not just simply a change in what to eat. Rather, it’s adapting to a culinary tradition. That speak volumes about how effective this diet can be, even beyond the science. Plus, a diet that includes at least one glass of red wine every day? That sounds almost too good to be true, but in this case, it’s quite the reality.

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