Switching to one of the world’s most popular and respected diets might lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. And consuming one specific component of the diet is likely to pay the biggest dividends.
A recently published study from the National Institutes of Health looked more deeply at the Mediterranean diet to try to zero in on the elements of the diet that protect cognition. “Cognition” essentially refers to our mental abilities, such as thinking, memory, language and attention.
Numerous past studies have found a link between eating a Mediterranean-style diet and brain health. In fact, we noted the diet’s role in reducing dementia risk in the story “7 Lifestyle Changes That May Help Prevent Dementia.”
The Mediterranean diet centers on eating fish and using olive oil in cooking. Drinking red wine in moderation is also a staple of the diet. Other foods associated with this diet include:
- Whole grains
In the NIH study, researchers followed about 7,750 participants for five to 10 years and asked about their eating habits. Participants also underwent cognitive tests of memory, language and attention.
The researchers were looking to see how dietary factors influenced two aspects of cognition:
- The risk of cognitive impairment. This is the risk that someone’s cognition would become worse than that of peers.
- The risk of cognitive decline. This is the risk that someone’s cognition would become worse over time.
The researchers found that eating fish offered a particularly large benefit. According to a report on the study from Harvard Health Publishing:
“Fish was the single most important dietary factor in lowering the risk of cognitive impairment. Vegetables were second best, and all other foods showed smaller, insignificant effects. Moreover, of all the foods evaluated, only fish was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. Eating fish lowered the risk of both cognitive impairment and cognitive decline.”
It’s important to note that while eating fish can be beneficial, some types of fish contain high levels of potentially harmful mercury. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website offers tips about which types of fish are safest to eat.
In addition to protecting the brain, the Mediterranean diet also has been linked to other health benefits. Earlier this year, the diet took most of the top honors in a poll of experts tasked with choosing the best diets for your health.