Expert tips on eating for brain health

Mediterranean Diet for Brain Health

Our research partners at CHeBA explain how the Mediterranean and Okinawan diets can help you maintain a healthy brain as you age.

Your brain consumes nearly 25% of the energy your body produces from the foods you eat, just to maintain regular functioning. For ideal cognitive function, your brain needs a diet high in essential vitamins and minerals, proteins, good fats and carbohydrates.

Diet, exercise and a healthy weight are critical to preventing age-related mental function decline and the development of dementia. Research confirms that a balanced diet is essential for brain function and health, plus dementia prevention.

The Mediterranean diet and Okinawan diet (based on that of the long-lived inhabitants of the Japanese island) are both highly effective for improving brain health and possibly reducing risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Research supports the need to address dietary deficiencies (such as iodine or thiamine) that may result in compromised brain function.

However, it’s important to note that all brain functions reduce markedly when the diet is chronically nutritionally poor – from concentration to processing speed, new learning capacity and cognitive tolerance. With studies of mid-life habits finding that adults with a healthier diet had significantly higher cognitive performance, especially on memory tasks, it’s a no brainer to address your nutritional intake for better brain health!

Make for the Med

The Mediterranean diet is a predominantly plant-based, antioxidant-rich dietary pattern known for its cardiovascular and brain health benefits. It involves consuming abundant vegetables, fresh fruit (usually for dessert), olive oil, plus grains and pulses (complex carbohydrates). Fish and poultry are primary proteins, with little red meat. Low to moderate amounts of wine also feature, usually red.

Turning Japanese

The Okinawan diet is another with benefits for brain health, longevity and possible dementia prevention. The first rule of this diet is to eat only until you feel 80% full. The second is to eat healthy, mostly plant-based foods. Okinawans eat more vegetables (particularly green and yellow vegetables) than most people, as well as whole grains, tofu, fish and other legumes. They eat very little sugar, red meat, dairy or eggs. Lastly, Okinawans combine a healthy diet with regular physical activity.

Read more about our research partnership with CHeBA.