In February, the Mediterranean diet made news (again) when a study found that some 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet. Meaning, simply eat as they do in many Mediterranean countries with an emphasis on whole grains, nuts, olive oil, and red wine, along with fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes and fish.
Now researchers in Spain are attributing more good news to this style of eating. After following more than 1,000 people for six and a half years, they discovered that those who were on a Mediterranean diet and supplemented with extra nuts or olive oil performed better on cognitive tests than the control group, which followed a lower-fat diet.
“We found that a Mediterranean diet with olive oil was able to reduce low-grade inflammation associated with a high risk of vascular disease and cognitive impairments,” said Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, the chairman of preventive medicine at the University of Navarra in Spain.
The Mediterranean diet skips over processed foods and bad fats, and relies on food items that are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. These kinds of foods are thought to help decrease circulatory damage, inflammation and oxidative damage in the brain.
“The quantity of the difference between the groups was small from a clinical point of view, but it was statistically significant,” he said. “The harmony, the combination of all of the micronutrients, when they are combined in traditional Mediterranean cuisine, is very important for the functioning of the central nervous system.”
One of the beauties of the diet is that it is practical, easy, and nice on the palate. And aside from blatantly unhealthy food, it is not terribly restrictive. (Not to mention the distinctly pleasurable perks of olive oil and red wine.)
“The Mediterranean people enjoy this kind of diet every day,” Martinez-Gonzalez said. “It is pleasant, it is healthy, it is sustainable, and it is not very expensive.”
The study was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.