could the mediterranean diet reduce dementia risk 01 Mar, 2022

You are what you eat. Healthcare professionals have always recommended a balanced diet for a healthy body. After all, good nutrition is the body’s key weapon to boost the immune system and fight all types of diseases.

The Mediterranean diet has been making rounds nowadays. Substantial studies suggest that it can reduce the risk of dementia.

Past research shared that the Mediterranean diet could be good for the heart and weight loss. But does it benefit the brain and reduce the risk of cognitive disorders? Let’s get to know more about the Mediterranean diet.

What makes up a Mediterranean diet?

A traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, seafood, nuts, legumes, olive oil, including low consumption of dairy, meat products, and wine. During 1960, people in Greece, Crete, and southern Italy ate a Mediterranean diet. At that time, fewer people had chronic diseases, and the life expectancy was high.

The Mediterranean diet is known for its flexibility. You don't need to cut out carbs or completely give up fatty foods. Meat and alcohol could still be part of your plate but only on low to moderate consumption.

What are the benefits of a Mediterranean diet?

Lots of fruits, vegetables, seafood, and other healthy selections from varying food groups contain the Mediterranean diet.

Veggie options include spinach, broccoli, cucumbers, turnips, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes. Meanwhile, fruits include bananas, strawberries, blueberries, melons, apples, and oranges. All of these give the body several nutritional benefits.

Seafood, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit heart health. Lean beef and lean pork are rich in protein.

Nuts like almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, minerals, and many other phytochemicals.

Legumes such as peas, lentils, beans, and chickpeas are high in folate and good protein sources.

Olive oil is a staple in a Mediterranean diet kitchen. It is rich in antioxidants, which lowers the risk of chronic diseases. Also, one study suggests that certain extra virgin olive oils help fight cancer.

Dairy could be part of a Mediterranean diet, but choosing beneficial dairy products is necessary. Feta cheese, parmesan, brie, manchego, and Greek yogurt are healthier. Be sure to cap your dairy intake at two cups.

Wine has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties. Based on studies, wine consumption has a positive impact on longevity. In particular, sparkling wines, rose wines, and red wines, when consumed moderately, are good for health.

People on a Mediterranean diet should avoid foods high in sugar and trans fat, refined grains, such as tortillas and pasta, refined oils, and processed meat and foods.

Does the Mediterranean diet prevent dementia?

The U.S. News & World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet as the best diet in 2021. It's been the top 1 diet for four years in a row. But what do researchers say about it when it comes to reducing dementia risk?

A review suggests that the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of heart diseases, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Now some studies also specify that it helps reduce the risk of dementia.

The aging process changes the microbiota in the gut and causes imbalance. This change could weaken the immune system, making older people susceptible to diseases. Since yogurt is rich in good bacteria, researchers believe it could improve gut health, which can then affect the brain in a positive way.

German researchers studied how diet is associated with proteins beta-amyloid and tau, the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. People with Alzheimer’s have abnormal taus that accumulate and form tangles inside brain neurons. Beta-amyloid clumps into plaques and builds up between neurons.

A total of 500 people participated in the study. Out of this, 300 people had a high risk of Alzheimer’s. They reported their diets and took tests to evaluate their cognitive function. People who didn't follow a Mediterranean diet scored lower on memory tests.

Another study confirmed that the 36 people who ate a Western diet containing high amounts of red meat, processed foods, dairy, and sugar had more beta-amyloid deposits than the 34 people who ate a Mediterranean diet.

Is the Mediterranean diet good for memory?

The Mediterranean diet is good for memory as it consists of healthy selections that support brain health and overall health.

Fish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and omega-3s are essential for learning and memory.

Blueberries, which are also part of a Mediterranean diet, have antioxidants that support communication between brain cells.

Broccoli is rich in Vitamin K that improves memory and cognitive status.

Nuts are good sources of antioxidants, healthy fats, and vitamin E that benefit the brain.

Even with all the studies now, further research is needed to establish the benefits of a Mediterranean diet in lowering dementia risk. In the end, what matters is that your diet should support what your body and brain need for everyday function.

How do I start the Mediterranean diet?

A quick and easy way to start a Mediterranean diet is to fill your plate with fresh and wholesome foods.

Here are some things to try:

  • Add vegetables to other dishes
  • Choose fruits as snacks
  • Replace butter with olive oil when cooking
  • Choose seafood over red meat; whole grains over refined grains
  • Limit dairy, sugar, and processed food intake

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is the opposite of the Mediterranean diet. Therefore, shifting to a healthier option can be challenging. The key is to find better and healthier alternatives. For instance, instead of ice cream for dessert, opt for strawberries, grapes, or apples.

Sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet for overall health

The Mediterranean diet, known for its fresh and wholesome options, offers countless benefits to the body — although additional research is needed to confirm if it helps reduce the risk of cognitive disorders. Unlike other special diets, the Mediterranean diet is flexible. More food selections mean you don’t have to eat the same thing every day. You can have a variety of vegetables, fruits, and seafood.

Apart from a healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep are the other pillars of healthy living. A balanced diet won’t be enough to lead a healthy lifestyle and reduce the risk of diseases. You need to keep the body active with exercise and let it recover with eight hours of sleep.

In conclusion, whether it’s a Mediterranean or another special diet, you need to be conscious of what you eat because it will affect your body.


Syed Rizvi


Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.

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