People who eat a Mediterranean-style diet – particularly one rich in green leafy vegetables and low in red meat – are more likely to stay mentally sharp in later life, a new study from the University of Edinburgh shows.
Closely adhering to a Mediterranean diet was associated with higher scores on a range of memory and thinking tests among adults in their late 70s, the research found.
These latest findings suggest that this primarily plant-based diet may have benefits for cognitive functioning as we get older, researchers say.
About the study
The researchers tested the thinking skills of more than 500 people aged 79 and without dementia. 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.
In general, people who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet had the highest cognitive function scores, even when accounting for childhood IQ, smoking, physical activity, and health factors. The differences were small but statistically significant.
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 cognitive skills in later life.
The researchers said that eating more green leafy vegetables and cutting down on red meat might be two key food elements that contribute to the health benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet.
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