Popularized in recent years by cooking shows and recipe books, family cooks across the globe — eager to bring a taste of Europe to their dinner tables — have been inspired by the freshness, vibrancy, and health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
While the diet has steadily increased in popularity for home chefs in non-Mediterranean countries, it first became a topic of interest for researchers in the 1950s, when they found that populations around the Mediterranean Sea lived longer and in better overall health than other, wealthier nations to the west.
What was their secret? And could it be reproduced in kitchens across the world?
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Med diet is primarily plant-based, with the exception of fish and moderate amounts of cheese, yogurt, and chicken. The main source of fat comes from olive oil, and most dishes centre around fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, nuts and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. A moderate amount of red wine is acceptable, too.
Like all diets, some foods are to be avoided. In the case of the Mediterranean diet, this includes sugary foods and drinks, whole-fat dairy products (like cream and butter), processed food, and red meat.
The Associated Health Benefits of the Diet
This coastal diet has been tied to a multitude of health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. It can also support healthy blood pressure and can improve gut health — to name just a few merits.
Another associated benefit tied to the Mediterranean diet is a slowed decline in brain capacity and function as we age. This is how the diet may help to protect against damage to brain cells, as we see in those living with dementia.
The Diet and Dementia
Antioxidant-rich foods like those found in the Mediterranean diet may have benefits for those who are living with dementia and for people looking to allay known risk factors. That’s because antioxidants could help protect our brain cells and increase the production of proteins that help shield the brain from damage.
According to one study, researchers concluded that “a substantial body of evidence from observational studies and randomized trials concurs that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline, and a reduced risk of dementia, or progression to dementia.”
Further, the diet can lower cholesterol levels — high cholesterol has been tied to memory and processing challenges — and help reduce the incidence of obesity and hypertension, which increase our risk of developing the disease.
Balanced nutrition, as offered by this diet, helps to keep the body healthy and strong. In certain cases, you may want to pair this diet with the best vitamins for dementia to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need. This is vital for a person living with dementia, as poor nutrition can contribute to an increase in behavioural symptoms and detrimental weight loss.
You might make meals for a loved one who’s living with dementia yourself. Or, you may have secured help from a reputable home care company like Integracare Home Care (where a highly-trained, compassionate caregiver or certified Personal Support Worker can work with your loved one to build their medically advised health plan, incorporating both diet and exercise).
Either way, consider exploring what fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oils, beans, lentils, nuts, and whole grains can do for their health and wellbeing.
Studies are still new and ongoing into the correlation between dementia and the Mediterranean diet. However, early research looks promising. Until studies advance, this diet has an array of other health benefits that make it a positive change (and simple change) for those looking to increase their health and happiness.