A new study in Australia provides another reason why following a Mediterranean diet may be good for your health, particularly for your brain and heart.

Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in plant-based ingredients can lead to a sharper memory and a slower cognitive decline as you age, the new research suggests.

More specifically, researchers found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet displayed lower rates of cognitive impairment, reduced conversion to Alzheimer's disease, as well as improvements in cognitive function.

Good For Your Heart And Brain

The Mediterranean diet consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes and cereals. It uses olive oil as a major source of fat and has little to no red meat and dairy.

In the new report, experts from the Center for Human Psychopharmacology at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne evaluated all papers from 2000 to 2015 that focused on whether a Mediterranean diet may impact a person's cognitive functions over time.

Overall, researchers found 18 out of 135 articles that met their criteria.

Roy Hardman, lead author of the study, says that what surprised them was the positive effects of the diet among countries all over the world.

This means that regardless of whether or not the country is located in the Mediterranean region, the positive effects of a higher adherence to the diet were similar in all the papers they examined.

In the end, Hardman and his colleagues found that a strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet led to improvements in language, attention and memory.

Memory was particularly affected by the diet in the following aspects: improvements in delayed recognition, improvements in long-term and working memory, improvements in visual constructs, and in executive function.

Hardman says a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet provides benefits to individuals because it offers the chance to change some of the modifiable risk factors of cognitive decline.

For instance, the diet may help:
- reduce the body's inflammatory responses;
- increase micronutrients;
- change lipid profiles through the use of olive oils as the source of dietary fats;
- improve vitamin and mineral imbalances;
- maintain weight or potentially reduce obesity;
- improve polyphenols in the blood;
- improve the cellular energy metabolism; and
- potentially change a person's gut microbiome.

Never Too Late

The benefits of the diet when it comes to cognitive function were not exclusive to older people. Two of the studies that Hardman and his team investigated focused on younger adults. Both research found significant improvements in cognition.

Meanwhile, the new study emphasizes the fact that studying the benefits of the Mediterranean diet to cognitive ability is important because of the expected extensive population aging over the next two to three decades.

Researchers envision that a dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet will become an essential tool in maintaining the quality of life and lessening the potential economic and social burdens of cognitive decline.

Because of this, Hardman recommends people to try to follow or switch to the Mediterranean diet, even at an older age. He says he, too, follows the diet patterns and do not consume pork, chicken or any red meat. Instead, he eats fish two-three times per week.

"[I] adhere to a Mediterranean style of eating," says Hardman.

Details of the new report are published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

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