Everything we eat has a profound effect on our brains. Some foods interact quickly with the brain, such as nutmeg, a popular holiday spice. Nutmeg contains chemicals that our bodies convert relatively quickly into a form of the popular street drug, ecstasy. In low doses we don’t notice any psychedelic effects, but eat an entire canister of nutmeg (caution: not recommended) and you’ll likely hallucinate for the next 48 hours.

The Mediterranean diet

However, most of what we eat is absorbed and processed over time; the effects of which aren’t as apparent. Over the years, scientists have searched for foods that slow the brain’s aging process. Now, the Mediterranean diet is a well known protective factor against cognitive decline.

The Mediterranean diet consists of:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

The benefits of omega-3s and antioxidants

The Mediterranean diet is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, which are strong protective agents against cognitive decline. Antioxidants combat the development of free radicals (toxic ions) in the brain, which contribute to the brain’s aging process and are largely responsible for decreasing tissue volume. In the absence of antioxidants, free radicals act as little grenades and damage surrounding brain cells. The nutrients in antioxidant-rich foods, like blueberries, blackberries, spinach, kale and beans, can benefit your brain and body.

Scottish scientists found further proof of the Mediterranean diet’s protective ability by studying a group of seniors over three years. Brain scans revealed participants who adhered to the mediterranean diet had greater overall brain volume compared to those who did not. The brain size difference between the two groups equates to roughly five years of life.

Although containing the word “diet,” the Mediterranean diet is more than just the food you eat. Rather, it’s a lifestyle and emphasizes the importance of living actively.

Check back next week for more information about the impact of exercise on the brain.