Boost Your Brain Health With a Mediterranean Diet

May 10, 2016 | 3,312 views

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Fresh vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil — these are the components of a Mediterranean diet eaten in countries like Greece, Italy, France and Spain.1 Because it emphasizes healthy fats and limits the consumption of processed food, the Mediterranean diet is a good diet that you should follow.

Why a Mediterranean Diet Can Be Good for You

Researchers conducted a study wherein 450 elderly people with different risk factors tried either a Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil or nuts or a low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet showed favorable results. According to Reuters:2

"Based on the brain function tests done before and after the study, the group eating low-fat foods had a significant decrease in memory and cognitive function.

The group following a Mediterranean diet with supplemental nuts had significant improvements in memory, while the group adding extra virgin olive oil experienced significantly better cognitive function."

The positive link between healthy fats and better brain health was also highlighted in a study published in the journal Neurology. Involving 28,000 people from 40 different countries over a span of five years, the participants consumed what most health organizations deem as a "healthy and balanced diet" containing high amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, fewer portions of red meat, and restrained alcohol consumption.3

The participants underwent cognitive tests at the beginning of the study and at the two- and five-year intervals. People who scored the highest in terms of adhering to the "healthy diet" had a 24 percent less risk of cognitive decline and had lower body mass index (BMI) scores. They were also more active and less likely to smoke.

The positive qualities of the diets in both studies could be attributed to the healthy fat content. The typical Mediterranean diet uses a lot of olive oil. Best when poured over salads and cold dishes, this monounsaturated fat is unrefined and unheated, and contains vitamins A and E, chlorophyll, magnesium, squalene and other cardio-protective nutrients.

However, many are wary when told to include "fat" in their healthy diet. Fat has a negative connotation, and it is time to debunk this misconception.

Saturated Fats Are Just Fine

Saturated fats have been vilified because to the have been inaccurately linked to heart disease and obesity. This was proven in a meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Medicine that didn't find any link between high levels of saturated fat in a diet and heart diseases and other dangerous illnesses.

Sixty percent of your brain is composed of fat, making healthy fats a good way to enhance brain function. They also provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet and are vital for proper cellular and hormonal function. Apart from saturated fats, omega-3s, a type of fatty acid, are also important for brain health and function. According to recent research, supplementing with omega-3s enhanced attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms among children.

Cognitive control may have been improved as well, but there was one mistake during the study — the omega-3s were provided via margarine, which is one of the worst possible sources, and this was why the children were not able to experience the benefits.

Other research has also proposed that animal-based omega-3s, when combined with vitamin D, are able to develop cognitive function and behavior linked to psychiatric conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia by controlling the amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is inside your brain.

The omega-3 fatty acid EPA lowers inflammatory signaling molecules that prevent the release of serotonin from presynaptic neurons, which then boosts your serotonin levels. On the other hand, DHA provides serotonin receptors access to the neurotransmitter itself.

Making a Mediterranean Diet Matter

If you want to try a Mediterranean diet, you have to know some of the best sources of healthy fat that you can incorporate into your daily meals. There are many that you can choose from, including:

Omega-3 Fats Saturated Fats
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Supplements like krill oil
  • Coconuts and coconut oil for cooking
  • Olives and olive oil for cold dishes
  • Raw, grass-fed butter
  • Raw nuts
  • Organic, pastured egg yolks
  • Avocados
  • Grass-fed meats

However, there's more to the Mediterranean diet than its healthy fat content. You have to include real food sources, namely unlimited amounts of fresh vegetables and moderate portions of high-quality protein, while eliminating processed food and grains. Increasing your intake of astaxanthin- and choline-rich food and vitamin D greatly benefits your brain as well.

These foods are the components of an ideal intermittent fasting diet, where you restrict your eating time to a six- to eight-hour window per day, while fasting for the remainder of it. By adapting this type of lifestyle, you will not only boost brain health and prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease, but also:

  • Improve insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial energy efficiency
  • Lower oxidative stress
  • Better resist stress, disease and aging
  • Inhibit inflammation
  • Lessen LDL and total cholesterol levels
  • Decrease blood pressure

Fats exert positive effects on your body. If you haven't been including healthy fats in your diet, there is no better time to start than now. To learn more about the many benefits the Mediterranean diet, read my article "Mediterranean Diet Linked to Healthier Brain."

Sources and References

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