Mediterranean diet is brain food
May 21st, 2013
10:47 AM ET

Mediterranean diet is brain food

Sticking to a Mediterranean diet may not just be good for your heart, it may be good for your brain as well, according to a new study.

Researchers in Spain followed more than 1,000 people for six and a half years, and found that participants who were on a Mediterranean diet and supplemented that diet with extra nuts or olive oil performed better on cognitive tests at the end of the study period than the control group, which followed a lower-fat diet. The study was published Monday in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

"We found that a Mediterranean diet with olive oil was able to reduce low-grade inflammation associated with a high risk of vascular disease and cognitive impairments," said Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, the chairman of preventive medicine at the University of Navarra in Spain and a study author.

The Mediterranean diet is devoid of processed foods and bad fats, and high in whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables, legumes, fish and even red wine - all things that are high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. These types of foods are known to help reduce vascular (circulatory) damage, inflammation and oxidative (free radical) damage in the brain.

But there are limitations to the study.

Dr. Dean Ornish, a well-known proponent of a very low-fat, largely plant-based diet says while the Mediterranean diet is good, it's unfair to compare it to a "low fat diet" in this particular study.

"It's erroneous to say (the Mediterranean diet in this study is) better than a low fat diet, when in fact they weren't following a low-fat diet," said Ornish. "If they said the Mediterranean diet improves cognition compared to standard American diet or standard Spanish diet, I would agree, but clearly, a 37% fat diet is not a low-fat diet."

Ornish, who recommends a diet that includes only 10% fat says in his studies, says he has seen similar effects - improved cognition, improved heart health and reduced depression.

"Good shouldn't be confused with optimal," when referring to the Mediterranean diet, he says.

Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician-nutrition specialist, says the study findings are encouraging.

"The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants, it's anti-inflammatory, and it has a lot of vascular protective elements, so I don't think this is a stretch," said Jampolis. "In a high-risk vascular population, this could be beneficial, and it's worth evaluating further."

But she cautions that the Mediterranean diet should be stacked up against the typical American diet to get a true picture of how much it helps cognition.

While Dr. Martinez-Gonzalez agrees that the study isn't perfect, he says there is clear evidence that the Mediterranean diet is beneficial.

"The quantity of the difference between the groups was small from a clinical point of view, but it was statistically significant," he said. "The harmony, the combination of all of the micronutrients, when they are combined in traditional Mediterranean cuisine, is very important for the functioning of the central nervous system."

And he added that this is not only a healthy diet, it's a sustainable diet.

"The Mediterranean people enjoy this kind of diet every day," he said. "It is pleasant, it is healthy, it is sustainable, and it is not very expensive."

soundoff (206 Responses)
  1. yaa

    Well i DONT see it at work... Look at their countries. Which one looks like a very brainy populace to you?

    May 21, 2013 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • vd

      It doesn't make you brainy, it just stops you from going completely nuts (ie getting dementia).

      May 21, 2013 at 16:46 | Report abuse |
    • Lenny

      We call can certainly see how your diet is working on your brain.

      May 21, 2013 at 18:09 | Report abuse |
    • Timmy

      got a point there

      May 21, 2013 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      You beat me to it.

      May 21, 2013 at 18:52 | Report abuse |
    • Pensimmon

      Well, the Italians make very very cool cars. Think Lamboghini or Ferrari. They have fantastic opera, fabulous culture, beautiful fashions, they have brilliant scientists – I've met some. I wonder if you have been to an Mediterranean countries, as you seem poorly informed

      May 21, 2013 at 21:43 | Report abuse |
    • Guest


      May 21, 2013 at 23:14 | Report abuse |
    • Chas

      "...found that participants who were on a Mediterranean diet and supplemented that diet with extra nuts or olive oil performed better on cognitive tests at the end of the study period than the control group..."
      Precisely, one would expect them to demonstrate 'something', oh well, considering how Egypt turned out I never believed the Egyptians built the pyramids all by themselves...LOL

      May 22, 2013 at 07:43 | Report abuse |
    • francesco

      whereas here we are blessed with fat Americans who don't believe in evolution, global warming and gun control

      May 22, 2013 at 13:16 | Report abuse |
    • JoJo

      Maybe there IS something to this. Did you watch the Republican debates?

      May 22, 2013 at 16:19 | Report abuse |
    • Al

      That had to be the stupidest thing that could have even been typed in your keyboard. First of all, we are talking about mental health, not politics
      Secondly yes, Spain is going through a tough time because the world has dipped into a recession, but that does not mean that they will stay there for good
      Also, Spain my be doing poorly but they are still one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And talk about having elegant cities and amazing AMAZING culture, food, absolutely beautiful people and hands down the best night life int he world.
      You should think before you say something like this and LEARN don't make us look worse that we already are seeing by the world because of comments like this.

      June 2, 2013 at 14:24 | Report abuse |
    • Al

      If you have so many issues with the Mediterranean I INVITE YOU to never go! stay here, go to las Vegas, enjoy New York and please don't come EVER! What for?

      June 2, 2013 at 14:28 | Report abuse |
  2. Voice of the people

    You're judging the intelligence of a country based on their most common diet? @yaa – Brain-food doesn't cure stupid so looks like you can stick to your normal diet.

    May 21, 2013 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Joss

    Dr. Ornish's diet has no science behind it. There is good science to indicate eating saturated fats such as butter, eggs is healthy for you and that current low-fat, low-cholesterol diets are harmful. There is good science that the cheap veggie oils like safflower, canola, etc. are inflammatory and far from heart healthy. Google Mary Enig and Sally Fallon with the Weston A. Price Foundation.

    May 21, 2013 at 18:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • maxnip


      Except his work is completely discredited by the medical community and his "foundation" only substantiated supporters are a whole 28 out of a possible 150,000 dentists.

      Would you buy a toothpaste that was only recommended by 28 out of 150,000 who specialize in that field?

      May 22, 2013 at 04:14 | Report abuse |
    • Lauren

      Maxnip, dentists question Price's theories behind holistic dentistry, not his observation that processed sugars and flours cause tooth decay, and that diets rich in healthy fats produce the best teeth and bone structure. And most dentists wouldn't endorse holistic dentistry anyway, since it is about bodily health and nutrition, and not drilling teeth. Weston Price proposed that ongoing oral problems were symptoms of overall bad health, which would call for a doctor, rather than a dentist.

      I agree with you, Joss, that healthy fats are not the enemy. Dr. Ornish's diet claims are dangerous and unfounded.

      May 22, 2013 at 14:17 | Report abuse |
    • ehomer

      Anyone who wants to spend their time googling Price can also google Ornish & see the volumes of solid research that support his dietary recommendations.

      May 22, 2013 at 16:37 | Report abuse |
  4. Big Daddy

    Please stop being so mean. Read the artical an respond accordingly.

    May 21, 2013 at 18:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dan

    Does it also make you believe in fairy tales and want to blow things up?

    May 21, 2013 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Big Pig

      Do you have any idea what part of the world is being discussed here? Never mind that "believing in fairy tales and blowing people up" applies just as well to America...

      May 22, 2013 at 10:44 | Report abuse |
  6. Dimassi

    Any diet that includes pizza must be good.

    May 21, 2013 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. MP

    Well, if you look at the whole of civilization, mediterranean peoples contributed more than any others. Science, mathematics, medicine. Don't dispute it, look it up. READ

    May 21, 2013 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dr. Steven Poop

      lol, no.

      May 21, 2013 at 20:40 | Report abuse |
    • Big Pig

      That's too much like work for your average American blowhard idiot.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:45 | Report abuse |
  8. Josh henderson

    I'd rather live there and eat healthy than live in the USA and stuff my face every day with processed hormone enriched crap.
    High sodium and humongus portions are killing the American people..........some of the most unhealthy people on the planet.

    May 21, 2013 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • VladT

      Or you could live in America and eat the same foods in Italy....not sure who has a gun to your head forcing you to eat at McDonalds.

      A lot of self-hating Americans on the thread today.....

      May 22, 2013 at 10:22 | Report abuse |
  9. DrDo

    Anything in execessive is unhealthy, you need bit of every type of food.

    May 21, 2013 at 21:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. dewed

    Well, apparently vodka, potatoes and cabbage is a GREAT diet...the Russians were first into space.

    May 21, 2013 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. American99

    Been to Italy over 12X in the past few years and over 90% of the population is very healthy. VERY few obese people.
    Also very smart people, who value quality of life over material possessions and income.

    May 21, 2013 at 23:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Anthony bourdain

    I ate cold fish in Transylvania, I think it was loaded with EPA and DHA fatty acids and now my eye is twitching? I think the Italians are great cooks and shoot big loads, gotta be worh something..

    May 22, 2013 at 03:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. romabella64

    Wait a minute.

    We are in debt with trillion of dollars, our health care is a mess, people can't afford to go to a doctor or buy a house and here we are criticizing other countries?

    Let's first look at our demise before talking about other.

    May 22, 2013 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mike

      MURKA!!! lol...

      May 22, 2013 at 15:20 | Report abuse |
  14. Ilastigma

    almost ANY diet is better than the standard American diet

    May 22, 2013 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mike

      It's changing. The problem is we are so screwed up industrially that processed food is cheaper than unprocessed food in many cases.

      May 22, 2013 at 15:21 | Report abuse |
  15. Johnny 5

    Beats the american diet of fast-food and prescription drugs.

    May 22, 2013 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Trini14

    romabella64, Ilastigma and Johnny 5, I'm right there with you all.

    May 22, 2013 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. palintwit

    Everyone relax, Sarah Palin has proven there’s no such thing as climate change

    Pack up your temperature sensors, your climate-modeling supercomputers, your tree and ice core sample equipment. Sarah Palin has spoken on climate change, and she says it’s snowing in Alaska, ergo “global warming my gluteus maximus.” And you know it’s science because she used the Latin word for “ass.”

    Palin only ever backs winning horses like John McCain, Bristol and Levi’s marriage, and her own gubernatorial career, so if she says climate science is a non-starter then by god, we’re just going to throw in the towel.

    May 22, 2013 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jason

    Be skeptical. Spain produces 43% of the worlds olive oil and has a lousy economy so there are very strong financial interests to promote increased olive oil consumption. I would be much more inclined to pay attention to this if the research came from say Canada or some nation with no financial interests.

    May 22, 2013 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Big Pig

      Goodness yes, it's a conspiracy by scientists worldwide to shore up the Spanish economy. Idiot. There are many studies from many countries showing the benefits of olive oil, many of which predate the current worldwide economic downturn.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:52 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Omg – you're a huge nincompoop

      June 12, 2013 at 00:01 | Report abuse |
  19. Steve

    Jordan Schlansky was right about the mediterranean food!!

    May 22, 2013 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Salvattor Vittoni

    Mediterranean diet creates lazy bummz, deprived of brain exercise.

    May 22, 2013 at 14:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mike

      Google "Greek island of old age", people. There is something to all this.

      May 22, 2013 at 15:22 | Report abuse |
  21. Person of Interest

    I'm an American and funny enough I don't remember being forced to eat hormone enriched food, McDonald's, etc. I have my own garden, hunt and fish, etc. While I do eat some processed foods on occassion I can make that to a minimum of my intake.

    The rest of you Americans on here being self-depricating are simply lazy or inner-city poor with little access to heathy alternatives (the second does need to be addressed). I have friends that actually grow food on their balconies in the city. There are ways to reduce your intake on processed foods but that also takes will-power, something many of you obviously lack.

    May 22, 2013 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. M.E.

    I'll take it. Falafel night in my house is usually the most popular dinner. By the time I scoop a few onto my plate, add tzatziki, cross the living room and sit down to eat, my husband has usually cleared his plate and is begging for more. Pasta primavera night also comes close to this, though pasta is a bit more labor intensive to eat so I do manage to get a bite of my own down before the man is asking for more. I do cook the occasional non-mediterranian meal, shrimp fried rice and bangers and mash being favorites, but it's still mostly southern european and middle eastern in my kitchen. it just tastes so much better, the health benefits are a pleasant side.

    May 22, 2013 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Yakobi

    Hopefully, we can change the "Mediterranean diet" by placing a Micky D's and KFC on every corner in southern Europe!

    May 22, 2013 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. mike

    Might explain that terminal cancer patient that had less than a year to live, moved to Greece, and a few years later came back to the US for treatment only to find his cancer was gone. Read the story in the last few months...think it was CNN...

    May 22, 2013 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. mike

    Google "Greek island of old age", people. There is something to all this.

    May 22, 2013 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. KJ

    I love me some falafel! But I don't think it's that healthy for you since it's fried..and my children have recently started eating hummus so we're doing pretty good on brain food I suppose...no if I only I could eliminate hot dogs and mac and cheese....but I think there would be a mutiny in my house!

    May 22, 2013 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. trollol

    How about the study that suggests highly intelligent people are more likely to use drugs than the average Joe? Would you draw the same conclusion that highly intelligent individuals are smart because they use drugs? The study seems flawed to me.

    May 22, 2013 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. hender1123

    If you took out preservatives, chemicals, GMO's, corn sweeteners, fillers out of the American diet you'd have nothing left.

    May 22, 2013 at 17:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Randy

    I love Mediterranean food and am an American. Yum!

    May 22, 2013 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. M. Angeles Tort

    Hi! Today the Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular diets both for its nutritional value as for its high gastronomic qualities. Its high content of unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, natural antioxidants and other nutrients make medical science considers as one of the healthiest.

    Besides, there are many studies showing the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on weight control, breast cancer prevention, skin cancer prevention, strokes, heart attacks, anaemia, hyperuricemia and gout disease, dementia, Alzheimer´s, hot flashes on menopause, among other diseases. The Mediterranean diet besides being varied and balanced nutritional intake, more than a diet, is said to be a way of life, which to generate a positive effect must be combined with moderate exercise daily.

    I invite you to learn more about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet by visiting: http://goo.gl/nXMo5


    May 23, 2013 at 07:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. vikingwoman

    We've been convinced that the Mediterranian diet is good because it contains raw foods(unprocessed) & lots of veggies, fruit & fish! But you could say the same of the Scandinavian diet! Lots of fish, fruit & veggies,often fished out of their lakes/oceans & usually grown in their own backyards! That's the diet part! The other part is that natives of these nations tend to be a lot more active than Americans! In Sweden, for ex. people revel in snow sports! The whole country skiis & skates! It's not just the diet but the level of activity that keeps a person healthy & mentally sharp!!

    May 28, 2013 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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    June 5, 2013 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. 2webdevs

    I bet it would be good for lots of health reasons. It is also simply a great diet.

    June 9, 2013 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Arlen


    June 11, 2013 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Jamie

    A high oil/fat diet is good for your heart? yeah ok. That's why the American diet is working so well huh? It's not like America eats too many carbs (plant foods). The Mediterranean diet is a fancier American diet. No different really...A few more salads and greens, which are not fat contributors.

    June 12, 2013 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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  40. lightseeker

    I love the way food is served in the restaurants in Italy. Its like a theatrical production. It also is so inviting. I don't eat beef or pork but the fish and the way its cooked is out of this world. I now eat the same way here at home and the combination of meditation and the M/D makes me look as though I'm forty (40) years old. I'm almost seventy. It also affords me LASTING bedside manners.

    June 24, 2013 at 08:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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