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How The Mediterranean Diet Supports Brain Health, From A Neuroscientist

Couscous salad with mint on marble table
Image by Tatjana Zlatkovic / Stocksy
September 2, 2020

There are a variety of risk factors for Alzheimer's disease (AD), such as age, genetics, health history, and even sex. Since men and women have different risk factors for the disease, their preventive approaches may also differ—except for one. According to neuroscientist and nutritionist Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., the Mediterranean diet is an effective preventive measure for both men and women. 

The Mediterranean diet is rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats from fish and olive oil, and flavorful spices. According to the Mediterranean diet food pyramid, enjoying meals with others is also an essential part of the lifestyle. These dietary and social parameters can contribute to brain health in men and women, Mosconi explains in a mindbodygreen podcast episode

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Why is the Mediterranean diet beneficial overall?

First and foremost, Mosconi calls the Mediterranean diet flexible and sensible. Sensible because the health benefits of the diet have been validated by hundreds of studies. And this isn't one of those ultra-trendy diets that gain popularity without any data to back it up, she says. "Trends come and go, and science moves a lot slower than any trends."

The flexible aspect is a bit more self-explanatory. Unlike some diets which restrict certain food groups like carbohydrates, the Mediterranean diet includes a wide range of whole foods, including whole grains. At the same time, “If you don't want to eat whole grains, don't eat them,” Mosconi says. More important than adhering to rules, is consuming enough micro- and macronutrients to support brain, heart, and overall health. 

How does the Mediterranean diet help prevent Alzheimer's?

"This diet has been shown to be particularly supportive of a woman's brain and women's health overall," Mosconi says. But after analyzing the science more, "it looks like it really works for men and women." 

Protein in the Mediterranean diet primarily comes from seafood, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids. According to Mosconi, the omega-3s in fish are polyunsaturated fats, like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), both of which are crucial for brain health. "They're part of our brain cell membranes," she explains. 

Other healthy Med-diet fat sources, like olive oil and nuts, have both been shown to support cognitive functioning and brain health, too. 

Along with healthy fats, antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet have protective properties. "The brain is the organ that is most easily affected by oxidative stress," Mosconi explains. The only way to protect the brain from that stress is by introducing antioxidants to the diet. 

Many of these antioxidants come from fruits and veggies, such as goji berries and blackberries. "Everybody goes for blueberries, but blackberries actually contain more antioxidants than blueberries," Mosconi says.

Produce isn't the only source of brain-boosting antioxidants, though. Legumes, nuts1, seeds, coffee, and even red wine contain critical antioxidants. For those who don't like red wine, pomegranate juice contains nearly equal amounts of polyphenols, Mosconi adds. 

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Bottom line.

From protein sources all the way to beverages, the Mediterranean diet contains a range of properties to support brain health for both males and females. Plus, it's pretty dang easy to follow.

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