In the mid-1900’s, scientists became aware that people in several Mediterranean countries were healthier and lived longer than in other regions of the world. So, researchers started studying the diet and lifestyle of the Mediterranean people to find out if what they ate, and how they lived had anything to do with the reason they were healthier.
Researchers discovered that the diet of the Mediterranean people was much different than the Western diet and its benefits include a reduction of cardiovascular disease, lower risk of cancer, reduced incidence of inflammation, oxidative stress and lower insulin levels. Thus, the Mediterranean Diet was born.
The people in the Southern regions of Greece and Italy have many things in common when it comes to diet and lifestyle. They eat mostly fresh, locally grown food (not having access to many of the unhealthy processed foods in the Western diet) for one.
Other foods on the diet include:
Perhaps just as important as the food eaten in the Mediterranean Diet, is the lifestyle of the people, who socialize frequently and are physically active every day.
Clinical study findings were so astounding for overall health and disease prevention, that the Mediterranean Diet began to be studied for its effect on many different illnesses — including Alzheimer’s disease.
“Based on studies, the Mediterranean diet is considered by some experts to be an excellent method for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. By one estimate, this diet can decrease disease risk by as much as 40% in older patients. The more strictly patients adhere to the diet, the more dramatically their risk is reduced,” says Dr. Richard Isaacson, M.D., Harvard trained Neurologist, in his book titled, “The Alzheimer’s Treatment & Prevention Diet.”
Low-fat dairy should only be eaten in moderation on the Mediterranean diet — such as 1-2 servings per day of plain (no sugar added) Greek yogurt with live cultures, a 4-ounce glass of low-fat milk, or 1 to 2 ounces of low-fat cheese. Only eat dairy from grass-fed cows, because these products are higher in healthy fats, than cows that are fed corn.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are important to overall health. Healthy fats are a vital part of the Mediterranean Diet.
Fatty fish from cold water sources, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, was shown in studies to be an important factor in brain and heart health. Healthy choices of wild caught fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
Fish should not be fried in oil, but rather baked or broiled. Avoid large amounts of shellfish, which is not considered part of the Mediterranean diet. Farm raised fish is considered by many food experts to be unhealthy and toxic, and it should be avoided altogether.
Recent studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids protect against heart disease and stroke, reduce blood pressure, raise HDL (good cholesterol) and lower triglycerides. Omega-6 fatty acids mostly come from plant oils (such as corn oil) and from nuts and seeds.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting food calories from omega-6 fatty acids to 5-10%. A diet high omega-6 fatty acid is associated with weight gain in human studies, whereas a high omega-3 fatty acid (fresh wild caught fish) intake decreases the risk for inflammation and weight gain while lowering bad cholesterol. In general, the Western diet is very high in omega-6 fatty acids, and too low in omega-3 fatty acids. It’s important to note that omega-6 fatty acids are healthy when the ratio is correctly balanced.
According to the American Heart Association, fatty fish (such as albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, mackerel, salmon and sardines should be eaten at least 2 times per week, with an average serving of 3.5 ounces cooked or ¾ cup flaked fish.
Those with a high risk of heart disease, or people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, may need to take a supplement of omega-3 fatty acid — under the supervision of the physician. High doses of omega-3 supplements could have dangerous side-effects (such as bleeding).
Foods High in Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Foods High in Omega 6 Fatty Acids
The Mediterranean Diet, found to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, is also thought to slow down symptoms of memory loss in people in the early stages of the disease. According to a recent Harvard Health publication:
“This has been shown to help thwart Alzheimer’s or slow its progression.” Dr. Marshall of Harvard Health added, “A recent study showed that even partial adherence to such a diet is better than nothing, which is relevant to people who may find it difficult to fully adhere to a new diet.”
Have you seen the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet on brain or heart health? We’d like to hear more about your experiences with the diet in the comments below.