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Brain Healthy Mediterranean Diet

“MIND” Diet and Mediterranean Diet: Similar Foods, Similar Brain Benefits

The link between healthy aging and the Mediterranean diet is well established, but recent research is putting a new name on this traditional, brain healthy cuisine. A July 2015 study in Alzheimer’s & Dementia reported that older adults on the “MIND diet” could delay cognitive aging by up to 7.5 years. The MIND diet, which emphasizes specific foods known to support brain health, includes whole grains, leafy green vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, and fish. Sound familiar?

The ‘M’ in MIND Diet stands for Mediterranean. In fact, the MIND diet is actually a hybrid of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet (a healthy diet used to treat high blood pressure that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, and limited sweets and salt).

Indeed, all of the MIND diet foods, including leafy green vegetables, olive oil, and fish, have a place in the Mediterranean diet. However, unlike the detail-oriented MIND diet, which favors specific types of fruits and vegetables over others, the less restrictive Mediterranean diet focuses on holistic food patterns and lifestyle, emphasizing variety and the pleasures of the table. Given that these two eating patterns are remarkably similar, it’s not surprising to learn that research on the MIND diet actually makes a very strong case for traditional Mediterranean diets.

In a study published this February in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, researchers studied the relationship between eating patterns and Alzheimer’s in 923 retired adults in Chicago. Those most closely following the Mediterranean diet were 54% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia (more than any other diet group). Comparatively, those most closely following the MIND diet (which shares many similarities with the Mediterranean diet) were 53% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia – similar results for two very similar diets.

While the MIND diet makes headlines with a media that’s always looking for something new, the scientifically-proven Mediterranean diet continues to rack up additional links with brain health. In another study published this July in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, scientists analyzed the eating patterns and brain scans of 146 French adults (average age 73). They found that the brain structure of those most closely following the Mediterranean diet was significantly more preserved 9 years later than those who didn’t follow a Mediterranean diet.

To put this in perspective, the researchers concluded that “higher adherence to the [Mediterranean Diet] appeared to delay cognitive aging by up to 10 years.” Similarly, another study published this May found that those eating a Mediterranean diet had significantly less cognitive decline compared to those on a standard low fat diet.

Don’t worry too much about the name; focus on the foods. No matter which “diet” you choose, research continuously demonstrates that whole foods such as green vegetables, nuts, and whole grains are beneficial for brain health. The Mediterranean diet, with its focus on overall dietary patterns and lifestyle, is a time-tested way to put this knowledge into context.

Many parts of the Mediterranean, including Sardinia, Italy, and Ikaria, Greece, are recognized across the globe for their remarkably high concentrations of centenarians (those living beyond age 100) and people who live longer, healthier lives. As we learn more about this diet and lifestyle, it is easy to see why. The traditional food pairings, recipes, and culinary traditions of the Mediterranean are a delightful way to give structure to a seemingly incompatible jumble of brain healthy foods, and to serve as a delicious and nutritious guide to food choices and meal ideas.

Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN
Registered Dietitian, Oldways

Learn More About the Mediterranean Diet

Oldways ( is a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition. Simply, we advocate for the healthful pleasures of real food. Oldways is the parent organization for The Whole Grains Council and The Mediterranean Foods Alliance, and is well-known for creating the Whole Grain Stamp and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. 

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