Clinical study finds this popular diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts helped stave off brain decline
Have you ever thought about the connection between your diet and your brain function? Oxidative stress has long been considered to play a strong role in our brain’s decline as we age, and research had suggested that following a Mediterranean diet could be related to better cognitive function as we age and lower our risk of developing dementia.
A recent study published online by JAMA Internal Medicine compared 447 brain healthy men and women (average age 67 years) who were at high cardiovascular risk. They were divided into three groups: (1) added five tablespoons of olive oil to the family cooking daily, (2) added 1 ounce of nuts to the daily diet, (3) followed a low fat control diet. They were measured for three types of brain function: memory, attention and executive function, and global function. After about four years, follow-up tests were performed.
The low fat control group had a significant decrease from baseline in all the areas of measured brain function. Compared with the control group, memory function remained stronger in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts group, while attention and executive function and global brain function remained stronger in the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil group. A traditional Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, and the olive oil and nuts add more to the mix.
Keep a few key points in mind. This was a large and randomized study on the connection between diet and brain health, and we need more of these. The measured changes were small, and did not actually show an increase in brain power, but rather less decline with aging. The one ounce portion of nuts consumed has also been associated with lower LDL cholesterol levels and decreased risk of heart disease. While the 5 tbsp. of olive oil daily sound high, it was a daily average to be used in recipes for the entire household- the original assignment was 32 ounces of additional olive oil to be used weekly in cooking.
A traditional Mediterranean diet is high in fruits and vegetables, with limited amounts of red meat and full fat dairy products. You can also Med Up your diet by adding more fish and legumes, in addition to the nuts and olive oil.
Monique Ryan is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics with over 25 years of experience helping active people optimize their nutrition and body composition. Contact us at 847-864-8689 to schedule your consult. Ryan has worked with elite athletes in soccer, football, basketball, triathlon, cycling, and mountain biking.
She is the author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, 3rd edition.