Eating a Mediterranean diet – such as foods containing omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, chicken and salad dressing while avoiding saturated fats, meat and dairy foods – may help you preserve your memory and improve your thinking, according to a new study published in the April 30 issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The same association, however, was not found in people with diabetes.
“Since there are no definitive treatments for most dementing illnesses, modifiable activities, such as diet, that may delay the onset of symptoms of dementia, are very important,” said Georgios Tsivgoulis, M.D., a neurologist with UAB and the University of Athens, Greece.
For this largest study yet on the Mediterranean diet, researchers reviewed dietary information from 17,478 African-American and Caucasian participants with an average age of 64 to see how closely they adhered to a Mediterranean diet. These study participants were also given tests that measured memory and thinking abilities over an average timespan of four years. A total of 17 percent of the participants had diabetes.
The researchers found that, in healthy people, those who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 19 percent less likely to develop problems with their memory and thinking skills. No significant difference in declines between African-Americans and Caucasians was found, but the Mediterranean diet was not associated with a lower risk of thinking and memory problems in people with diabetes.
“Diet is an important modifiable activity that could help in preserving cognitive functioning in late life,” said Tsivgoulis. “However, it is only one of several important lifestyle activities that might play a role in late-life mental functioning. Exercise, avoiding obesity, not smoking cigarettes and taking medications for conditions like diabetes and hypertension are also important.”
The study was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, one of the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Health and Human Services.