In a new study, researchers found that people who eat a Mediterranean-style diet—particularly one rich in green leafy vegetables and low in meat—are more likely to stay mentally sharp in later life.
They found closely adhering to a Mediterranean diet was linked to higher scores on a range of memory and thinking tests among adults in their late 70s.
Markers of healthy brain aging—such as greater gray or white matter volume, or fewer white matter lesions—did not differ between those regularly eating a Mediterranean diet and those who did not.
These findings suggest that this primarily plant-based diet may have benefits for cognitive functioning as people get older.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Edinburgh.
In the study, the team tested the thinking skills of more than 500 people aged 79 and without dementia.
The participants completed tests of problem-solving, thinking speed, memory, and word knowledge, as well as a questionnaire about their eating habits during the previous year.
More than 350 of the group also underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan to gain insights into their brain structure.
The team found that, in general, people who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet had the highest cognitive function scores.
The individual components of the diet that appeared to be most strongly associated with better thinking skills were green leafy vegetables and a lower red meat intake.
The latest findings add to the evidence that a healthier lifestyle, of which diet is one aspect, is associated with better thinking skills in later life.
The team says eating more green leafy vegetables and cutting down on red meat might be two key food elements that contribute to the benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet.
One author of the study is Dr. Janie Corley, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences.
The study is published in Experimental Gerontology.
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