Mediterranean Diet May Improve Memory in Diabetes

People with diabetes may improve their memory and brain function by following a Mediterranean diet, according to new research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published in the journal Diabetes Care.

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The Mediterranean diet tends to be rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts, olive oil and fish, and has been linked to a variety of health benefits, including lower risk of heart attack and stroke, prevention of type 2 diabetes and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. To determine whether the eating style can help improve brain function in people with diabetes, researchers followed 913 participants in the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study for more than two years. The investigators assessed the subjects’ eating habits, diabetes status and brain function (including memory, cognitive function and executive function).

For people without diabetes, sticking more closely to a Mediterranean-style eating plan was associated with improved memory. Those with diabetes experienced even larger benefits for brain health, seeing bigger gains in “cognitive function, word recognition and clock drawing skills” than those who did not eat a Mediterranean diet.

“A healthy Mediterranean diet includes foods that are rich in fruit and vegetables, which has antioxidants, and in fish and oils, which include healthy fats,” noted lead study author Josiemer Mattei, PhD, MS, MPH. “These nutrients help sustain cognitive function by reducing inflammation and oxidation in the brain.”

Because the study looked only at Puerto Rican participants, the findings may not apply to people in other racial or ethnic groups. Regardless, experts consider the diet a good approach for many people both with and without diabetes.

“There are many salutary effects of consuming a Mediterranean diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, lower in simple sugars, lower in red and processed meats, with a few servings per week of fish,” says Allen Taylor, PhD, of the Tufts University USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston, who was not involved in the study.

Want to learn more about the Mediterranean diet? Read “Five Reasons to Try the Mediterranean Diet” and watch “What Is the Mediterranean Diet?” then try five of our favorite diabetes-friendly Mediterranean recipes. And for strategies to improve your memory, read “Memory Fitness.”

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