Ask the doctor
Q. My doctor says the Mediterranean diet is not only good for my health in general, but that it is particularly good for my brain. That got my attention. Anything to it?
A. I think there is. The Mediterranean diet is rich in whole-grain bread, root vegetables, green vegetables, fish, poultry, fruit, and olive oil. It includes relatively little red meat, butter, and other foods rich in saturated fats and trans fats. As is often the case with research into a medical question, not all studies come to the same conclusion. But many studies have found that people who regularly adhere to the Mediterranean diet are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. And many studies also find that people with diets rich in saturated fats (including from red meat and processed meat) and trans fats are more likely to develop dementia of some type, along with other brain disease, particularly strokes.
A study published online in October 2015 by the journal Neurology provided important new evidence in this regard. The study included nearly 700 older adults (average age about 81) from many walks of life. Their diets were carefully assessed, and their brains were studied with MRI scans. Those people who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet were found to have larger brains—equivalent to that of people five years younger—compared with those who adhered least closely to the diet. Parts of the brain that are particularly important in memory showed the most difference.
I have followed the Mediterranean diet for many years. I think the evidence is very strong that it is good for the health of our heart and brain, and probably the rest of us, too.
— Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter