To keep your brain and memory sharp as you age, reach for the nuts and olive oil, according to a new study.
The findings, released Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, point to a Mediterranean diet as a tool in preserving your mind and preventing age-related cognitive decline.
The randomized clinical trial studied 447 men and women in Barcelona between the ages of 55 and 80. The participants were all considered cognitively healthy at the start, although they had high cardiovascular risk, which is associated with a higher risk of dementia in old age. They were split into three groups. One was a control group, advised only to eat a lower-fat diet. Two other group were advised to adopt the Mediterranean diet, along with either a handful of nuts every day (30 grams of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) or about a liter extra virgin olive oil every week (per household). The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains.
At a follow-up of about four years on average, the subjects were tested on things like memory, attention span and executive function. What they found was an overall decrease in the measured areas of cognitive function for the control group who followed a low-fat diet, while both groups on the Mediterranean diet showed improvements in cognition overall. Memory was significantly improved in the group that added nuts to their diet.
A plethora of research on the topic has been published, supporting the many health benefits of the popular diet. One 2011 Swedish study found that older adults who follow the diet may live up to three years longer than their non-diet-following counterparts. Another study published in 2013 found that followers of the diet has a 12 percent lower risk for developing diabetes. And to back up the findings of the new study, a 2012 study found that people who abide by the diet have much less small blood vessel damage in the brain, which can lead to cognitive decline over time and even strokes.
While the authors say further research is needed on the topic, they say the findings of the new study are promising. "Our results suggest that in an older population a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts may counter-act age-related cognitive decline," the study concludes. "The lack of effective treatments for cognitive decline and dementia points to the need of preventive strategies to delay the onset and/or minimize the effects of these devastating conditions."