Managing blood sugar levels and eating a Mediterranean diet can both improve cognitive function (which relates to thinking, memory and problem solving) in people with type 2 diabetes, according to research published in the journal Diabetes Care.
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, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and prevention of type 2 diabetes.
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Research has linked type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline. To evaluate the effects of the Mediterranean diet and of blood sugar management on cognitive function, researchers looked at data from the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study, which involved 1,499 Puerto Rican adults ages 45–75 living in Boston. Participants were given a questionnaire on their eating patterns, which evaluated how closely they followed meal plans such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet. Participants were also screened for diabetes and had their blood sugar control cognitive function evaluated.
After two years, people with type 2 diabetes and good blood sugar control who followed a Mediterranean-style eating pattern saw improvements in cognitive function compared to those following different eating styles (even if those eating styles included healthy features). Those whose blood sugar management was poor or worsened over the study period did not see cognitive improvements associated with the diet. Additionally, those without type 2 also did not experience cognitive improvements associated with a Mediterranean eating pattern, “suggesting that the pathways linking diet to cognition may be different for individuals with and without diabetes,” according to researcher Josiemer Mattei, PhD, and colleagues.
“The Mediterranean diet explained as much or more of the variability in predicting changes in cognitive function in our study as did age, especially for participants with type 2 diabetes under glycemic control,” the study authors wrote. “This dietary pattern may provide more cognitive benefits [in this patient group] than other modifiable and nonmodifiable factors.”
Want to learn more about improving memory? Read “Memory Fitness” and “Nine Tips to Improve Your Memory With Diabetes.” And 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.
Senior Digital Editor for DiabetesSelfManagement.com, Fennell has 16 years’ experience specializing in diabetes and related health conditions. Based in New York City, she has a degree from Columbia University.