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- A new study examined data from over 6,000 Hispanic and Latino individuals who followed a Mediterranean diet.
- Researchers found that strict adherence to the diet was associated with greater cognition and less memory decline.
- There are currently over 6 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S., and that number is expected to rise to 13 million by 2050.
The Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, according to new research.
The study, which was published in JAMA Network Open Thursday, over 6,000 Hispanic and Latino individuals who followed a Mediterranean diet and found that strict adherence to the diet was associated with greater cognition and less memory decline.
There are currently over 6 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S., and that number is expected to rise to 13 million by 2050.
Data also shows that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is substantial among Hispanic and Latino individuals. The number of Hispanic and Latino people who have Alzheimer’s disease is expected to increase by 832 percent between 2012 and 2060.
The Mediterranean diet, which prior research has found to be protective against cognitive decline, may help mitigate that risk, the researchers say.
“These findings support what other studies have found and strengthen the link between cognitive health and the Mediterranean Diet. It’s great that the population was specifically Latino/Hispanic and that the foods were culturally appropriate because it suggests that anyone, anywhere, can benefit from a Mediterranean-style diet,” Danielle McAvoy, MSPH, RD, a registered dietitian with Strong Home Gym, told Healthline.
Mediterranean diet linked to better cognition
The researchers evaluated the health data of 6,321 Hispanic or Latino adults who either loosely, moderately or strictly adhered to the Mediterranean diet.
Participants completed diet assessments and underwent two cognition tests.
Of the group, 35.8% loosely adhered to the Mediterranean diet, 45.4% moderately adhered to it, and 18.8% strictly adhered to the eating plan.
The research team found that strict adherence to the diet was associated with greater cognition and a lower risk of learning and memory decline than those who loosely adhered to the diet.
According to the researchers, the findings suggest that strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease in the Hispanic and Latino population.
“While ‘Mediterranean Diets’ have been consistently linked with reduced dementia risk, this study reminds us that rather than something specific to any particular diet—with any given label, or related to any one culture—the benefits come with eating robust amounts of foods that help maintain brain performance and health and avoiding or limiting those that likely cause harm,” Dr. Scott Kaiser, a geriatrician and Director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, said.
How diet affects cognition
Healthy lifestyle habits have long been associated with a lower risk of dementia, even among those at risk for developing the condition.
According to Dr. Dana Ellis Hunnes, a senior clinical dietitian at UCLA medical center, assistant professor at UCLA Fielding school of public health, and author of Recipe for Survival, the cognitive benefits of the Mediterranean diet have to do with the diet’s anti-inflammatory effects.
Research has shown that inflammation is closely associated with chronic diseases. Inflammation has also been linked to the buildup of plaques in the brain that are characterized by Alzheimer’s.
“There are a lot of nutrition and epidemiological studies that indicate that healthy diets — such as the Mediterranean diet — lower inflammation,” Hunnes said.
“One of the best things we can do to slow down aging and cognitive decline is to eat a very healthy, anti-inflammatory, and primarily plant-based diet such as a Mediterranean diet,” Hunnes added.
Tips for adhering to the Mediterranean diet
McAvoy says the Mediterranean diet is easy for most people to follow.
“It does not specify portions or the amount of food you should eat — you eat as much as you need depending on body size and activity level,” McAvoy said.
According to Kaiser, the study also shows that we do not need to abandon our culture, tastes, or food preferences to maintain a brain-healthy diet.
“Rather, within the frame of our likes and dislikes, we can aim to include generous amounts of brain-boosting beneficial foods and avoid or limit those that are most likely to do harm,” Kaiser said.
The Mediterranean diet is comprised of nuts, seeds, and olive oil along with plant-based foods, including fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables. Fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are also key components of the Mediterranean diet.
Hunnes says you can also eat a Mediterranean diet that is fully plant-based and include walnut and algal oils for the omega-3 fatty acids.
Red meat, processed foods and butter should be avoided.
“Following this type of diet is not only extremely good for your own personal health and cognition, but it is also healthy and beneficial for the environment and climate change,” Hunnes said.
The bottom line:
The Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, according to new research, according to new research. Dietitians say the Mediterranean has a strong anti-inflammatory effect, which helps combat the development of chronic diseases.