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Take It In: Avoid memory loss, depression with the Mediterranean diet

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Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

There’s nothing more embarrassing than forgetting the name of a key client, yacht owner or fellow crew member. 

Memory decline is often thought of as an unchangeable fact of aging. However, research shows that keeping your memory and thinking sharp may be as simple as changing your diet. What’s more, a certain diet style also can help prevent depression later in life. Both of these benefits, according to recent research, are possible by following a Mediterranean diet.

One study, published in March in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, showed that eating more fruits and vegetables, along with a moderate amount of nuts, fish and alcohol, and a minimal amount of red meat and full-fat dairy can help maintain keen brain function in midlife. 

More specifically, Irish researchers at the Queen’s University Belfast studied nearly 3,000 people – men and women with an average age of 25 – who ate three different types of diet: Mediterranean, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) and ADPQS (A Priori Diet Quality Score). Each of these diet styles are plant-based and heart-healthy. Subjects were ranked according to their adherence to the diets. 

Some 30 years later, when each subject was between age 50 and 55, cognitive functions like memory and thinking were measured. The Mediterranean and ADPQS diets proved the most effective (possibly because of moderate amounts of red wine, which is not allowed in the DASH diet). Results revealed that those subjects who stuck to the Mediterranean diet long-term were 46 percent less likely to have poor memory and thinking skills. 

In a second study, presented this spring at an American Psychiatric Association meeting, there were definite brain benefits in seniors who ate a Mediterranean-style diet. Researchers at Hellenic Open University in Greece screened more than 150 men and women for depression. These subjects were, on average, 71 years old, and all ate a Mediterranean-style diet to some extent. 

One key result showed that for every unit increase in vegetable consumption, the likelihood of becoming depressed dropped by 20 percent. Vegetables are an important component of the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet concept was first coined in the early 1960s, when it was observed that people in countries such as Greece and Italy who ate a traditional diet were exceptionally healthy and lived to a ripe old age. Today, this diet has been linked not only to brain health, but to prevention of heart disease, cancer and other health problems.

To eat a Mediterranean-style diet, make plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds the foundation of your plate. Eat fish and poultry at least twice weekly and red meat no more than twice a month. Swap butter for olive oil and salt for fresh herbs and spices. If you drink, choose red wine in moderation. 

Eating a caprese salad or Tuscan white bean soup is a more delicious way than pills to keep  problems such as memory loss, muddled thinking and depression at bay. 

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.

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