Mediterranean diet helps older people improve their minds

A Newcastle dietitian has urged people to follow the Mediterranean diet to improve their minds.

Dr Amanda Patterson, a senior lecturer in nutrition at the University of Newcastle, said the Mediterranean diet was “the most studied dietary pattern to date”.

Dr Patterson said this diet was linked to lower rates of cognitive decline and better cognitive function, along with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The diet features a high intake of healthy oils, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and cereals.

Dr Patterson’s comments come as she released research that showed a diet high in omega-6 fats was linked to better cognition in older Australians.

She will present her research at the Dietitians Association of Australia’s national conference in Sydney on Thursday.

Her research involved 2750 adults, aged 55 to 86, from the Hunter.

“Our findings suggest a higher intake of omega-6 fatty acids might be protective against cognitive decline in older Australians,” she said.

She said these fatty acids were found in a range of plant-based foods, including nuts and seeds, along with polyunsaturated oils like canola and sunflower oil.

The Mediterranean diet’s wide range of foods and food groups meant it included a range of fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

“When we think of the Mediterranean diet, we often think of fish and the beneficial omega-3s it offers, and also olive oil,” she said.

“But the cognitive benefits of the Mediterranean diet might be due to many different components of the diet, and the combinations of these – including all the fatty acids it contains, with plant-based omega-6 fats a key part of this.”

She said age-related cognitive impairment was a “fast-growing problem in Australia and across the globe”.

Given this, it was a “public-health imperative” to find ways to prevent or decrease it.

Dr Patterson, a practicing dietitian, said specific dietary patterns can influence a person’s cognitive performance throughout their life.

University College London has also studied the Mediterranean diet. 

Its findings, published in January in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, said the diet may reduce the risk of frailty in older people.

The study suggested that a diet featuring plant-based foods and low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry could help people stay healthy and independent as they age.

The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the culinary preferences of Greece, southern Italy and Spain in the 1940s and ‘50s.

It has been linked to longevity, along with lower incidences of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer.

However, researchers say diet is not the only factor in living a long and healthy life.

Blue Zones research has found that people who live long lives also have a purpose, low stress, they eat only until they’re 80 per cent full, drink one to two glasses of wine a day, belong to a faith-based community, put family first and have strong social circles.