A Mediterranean diet doesn't just add years to your life, it may also help you remember those years more clearly. A small study suggests a diet high in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, plus olive oil or nuts, can improve memory and brain power, Reuters reports. Researchers in Barcelona performed cognitive tests on 447 adults, aged 55 to 80, then asked them to follow a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet with five tablespoons of olive oil per day, or a Mediterranean diet with 30 grams of walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds daily, the Wall Street Journal reports. After four years, 334 took another test. The low-fat dieters showed a notable decline in memory and cognitive function. But those on a Mediterranean diet with olive oil showed less decline in cognitive function related to working memory, reasoning, and attention, while those who chowed down on extra nuts showed stronger memory function than others, reports LiveScience.
"This was the first clinical, randomized study using a dietary pattern for good health," as opposed to an observational study, author Emilio Ros says. "Our results suggest that in an older population, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts may counteract age-related cognitive decline," the researchers explain. They say the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents in nuts and olive oil may fight chemical processes in the brain that power neurodegeneration. "If you can delay your age-related cognitive decline, you can process tasks with higher speed," Ros says. However, a Mediterranean diet had no effect on the risk of participants developing mild cognitive impairment. An expert not involved in the study says omega fats do improve brain function, but an abundance of saturated fat could hurt cell membranes, so balance is key. (Feeling forgetful? Take a nap.)