Maintain Your Mental Health with the Mediterranean Diet

With its colourful fruits, vegetables and healthy fats, the Mediterranean diet has done wonders for overall health. Now, studies show that it can also help protect your brain from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease too.

For decades, nutritionists have sung the praises of a Mediterranean diet—particularly its heart-health benefits. Now a U.S. study suggests that following the diet can reduce one’s chance of developing mild cognitive impairment—which can be a transition stage between normal brain function and dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. (According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, about 500,000 Canadians have Alzheimer’s or related dementia.)

Though more research is needed, the U.S. study links the diet with stable blood-sugar levels, improved cholesterol levels and better blood-vessel health—all of which help reduce mild cognitive impairment.

So what is this diet? It’s the one that says yes to a splash of olive oil, the occasional glass of wine and a variety of colourful ingredients.

Mediterranean Menu Ideas

  • Stock up on “smart” carbs: cereal or whole wheat toast for breakfast; a serving of rice, grains or beans as a lunch side dish.
  • Replace butter with avocado.
  • Eat whole fruit and vegetables daily. Cut up and store fresh fruit in the fridge. And fill your lunch and dinner plates with green, leafy veggies.
  • Use canola or olive oil: Drizzle it on your salad or brush it on whole-grain bread. And for an authentic Mediterranean flavour, add a touch of olive oil, garlic and green onions to pasta.
  • Swap red meat and poultry for fish. Avoid sausage, bacon and high-fat meats. Go for grilled fish at least twice a week.
  • Snack on nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans and brazil nuts.
  • Sip on red wine (if it’s okay with your doctor). Otherwise, red grape juice will suffice.

This article was originally titled "Aid for the Aging Brain" in the March 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest Canada. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!