The Mediterranean diet has become immensely popular in recent years. This diet includes a wide range of fruits and vegetables that are all readily available in the Mediterranean region. Thanks to the global market, it’s easy to buy these ingredients at your local grocery store.
It has been touted as a miracle diet for both physical and mental health, and is well-known for its benefits to the heart and the cardiovascular system. Recently, the question has emerged of whether or not the Mediterranean diet is as good for your mental health as it is for your physical health.
That question is what we seek to answer today, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether or not you’d like to continue, or begin, the Mediterranean diet.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a plant-heavy diet that’s focused on vegetables and other organic foodstuffs that grow in the Mediterranean region. It’s a particularly popular diet for older people due to its ability to help strengthen the body and repair the damage accrued over a lifetime.
This diet isn’t just for seniors, though. When younger people start following the diet, the positive benefits make themselves readily apparent long before they reach old age. They appear younger, have more energy, and have a healthier body than those eating a typical American diet.
Is the Mediterranean diet good for mental health?
There have been quite a few studies done on the Mediterranean diet in regards to mental health. The results have been generally positive. Thirteen of the fifteen most popular studies done in the last decade indicate that the Mediterranean diet has significant benefits to the brain.
These benefits are varied, but they include improvements to memory, improved verbal fluidity, and neuroprotection. Neuroprotection is particularly important for older people because it prevents the brain cells (neurons) from degrading as quickly. This can slow, and even prevent, the onset of mental diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
These studies weren’t just done on American people; they included people from all over the world who ate diets from many different regions. They were done in the US, France, Spain, Sweden, and Australia. Regardless of the original diet the subjects ate, positive mental health benefits were consistently observed.
So how does the Mediterranean diet help the brain?
There are several ways in which this diet is beneficial for the brain. One of the main factors is the large and varied amount of antioxidants. The Mediterranean diet contains a wide assortment of different vegetables and fruits. These include some of the most antioxidant and nutrient-rich foods on the planet: Leafy greens, bright fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, beans, and lentils.
Contrary to what some health supplement stores will tell you, it’s not a good idea to supplement yourself with a single type of antioxidant. That’s why people who eat unhealthy diets can’t magically cure themselves by taking antioxidant supplements. There are hundreds of different antioxidants, and it’s important to consume a wide variety of different ones on a regular basis. Each antioxidant functions differently and works in its own way on different areas in the body.
- The Mediterranean diet makes ample use of olive oil. Olive oil is one of the best sources of polyunsaturated omega-3 fats. Since your brain is mostly made of fat, you need to consume a regular source of healthy fat to keep it running properly.
- The Mediterranean diet is also very low in red meat, which can be detrimental to mental and physical health if it’s not bought from organic farmers who raise grass-fed animals.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to do a number of things that aid the brain.
- It can reduce inflammation. Inflammation can negatively impact the brain by reducing the speed with which neurons communicate. Inflammation has also been indicated, at least to some degree, in almost every disease a person can encounter.
- It improves the balance of minerals and vitamins in the body. We all know how important these nutrients are for the body, but their effects on the brain are often underestimated.
- It can increase your metabolism. This is of interest because a healthy metabolism ensures that carbohydrates and other nutrients can be effectively absorbed, processed, and transported throughout the body. Carbohydrates are needed because they’re metabolized into energy, which our brain needs to run properly.
The neuroprotectant activity of many of the antioxidants found in the Mediterranean diet can slow down mental aging, leading to a higher resistance to mental health problems.
Some of the studies done on the Mediterranean diet involved giving the subjects cognitive tests after they had eaten the diet for a notable amount of time. These included tests to measure their memory, their processing speed, and other general cognitive functions.
In one such study, the control group was fed a low-fat diet, while the study group ate a diet much more similar to the Mediterranean diet, high in nuts and olive oil. The control group’s study results actually worsened. The study group didn’t demonstrate noticeably improved memory, but showed far less indication of age-related decline.
Keep in mind that this study wasn’t done on the Mediterranean diet itself – just on a diet high in omega-3 fats from nuts and oil. People eating the Mediterranean diet as a whole will also benefit from the antioxidants and nutrients in the diet.
Are there dangers to the Mediterranean diet?
As long as you manage to follow it properly and switch up the foods you eat, you should be fine. Obviously, if you’re allergic to anything that the diet recommends, you’ll want to avoid it!
One concern is a lack of protein. The diet recommends regular consumption of fish, which is a great source of protein as well as omega-3 fats. However, if you’re allergic to fish you’ll need to find other sources of protein. Without protein, your body won’t be as strong as it needs to be.
Getting the most out of the Mediterranean diet involves making sure that your daily meal plan includes lots of vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. You’ll also want to ensure that you eat fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds at least 2–3 times a week.
The Mediterranean diet has been indicated for improving memory and cognition in general and significantly reducing age-related mental decline.
This diet poses no significant health risks, and will probably improve the health of both your body and brain. The ingredients used in the Mediterranean diet are readily available, so if you’re interested, go out and get started!