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Boost Heart and Brain Health With The Mediterranean Diet

mediterranean diet

Olive oil, fruits and vegetables are key components of the Mediterranean diet. — Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

En español | New research suggests that eating a Mediterranean diet — including olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits, vegetables and even wine — can reduce heart disease risk.

Participants in a large clinical trial who adhered to the diet saw a 30 percent reduction in heart disease, stroke and deaths from heart problems.  

Learn more about the Mediterranean diet's health benefits from food expert and cookbook author Tamara Holt. She explains the easy principles of eating the traditional Mediterranean way, and then — best of all — she pulls together a collection of Mediterranean recipes from America's top chefs and cookbook authors. —The Editors

You take tango lessons and practice yoga. You're learning Mandarin. You do crosswords and Sudoku. As each research report about tactics for long-term brain health is released, you integrate them into your life. But might there be an easier way to keep your brain buzzing strong and long?

It may be as simple as picking up your fork.

Recent research indicates that a traditional Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), memory problems that are a known precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, as well as later developing Alzheimer’s.

No super foods. No nonsense. One diet with easy guidelines and good-to-eat foods.

Food for thought — literally. Columbia University researchers analyzed and tracked the eating habits of close to 2,000 subjects for nearly five years. Subjects were grouped — low, medium and high — according to their adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

The participants with the most “Mediterranean” eating habits showed a 28 percent lower risk of mild cognitive impairment than the subjects with the least. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by subjects who began the study with MCI was 48 percent lower for those with the most Med eating habits. The average age of the subjects was over 70. They weren’t put on the diet. This was how they already ate.

There’s no call for anthocyanin-laced acai smoothies or sprinkling omega-packed flax on your cereal. This isn’t a calorie-counting scale-using plan. What we are calling the “Mediterranean diet” is a general way of eating based on the traditional habits of coastal communities around the Mediterranean, including lots of fish, vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts and unsaturated fats (think olive oil), and not so much dairy and meats. Not a particular nutrient, but a way of eating, one based on plants.

Mediterranean lifestyle. The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet were first identified in the 1960s by University of Minnesota nutrition researcher and physician Ancel Keys in a cross-national multi-year study of eating habits and chronic illness. He discovered that the populations with the lowest incidence of heart disease and stroke sustained a diet with a high ratio of monounsaturated fat to saturated fat — lots of olive oil, and very little meat.

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