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Eat Mediterranean diet for a healthier and younger brain

Story highlights

  • Mediterranean diet may make brains about five years younger
  • Researchers scanned brains to compare their relative health

(CNN)As we age, our brains naturally shrink and our risk of having a stroke, dementia or Alzheimer's rise, and almost everyone experiences some kind of memory loss.

Scientists know that people who exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking and keep mentally stimulated generally have healthier brains than people who aren't as careful about diet and exercise. This latest study from the journal Neurology shows how one easy-to-follow diet (which includes wine!) may make your brain about five years younger.
    Researchers figured this out by looking at the brains of 674 people with an average age of 80. They asked these elderly people to fill out food surveys about what they ate in the last year and researchers scanned their brains. The group that ate a Mediterranean diet had heavier brains with more gray and white matter.
    The Mediterranean diet is relatively simple to follow. It involves eating meals made up mostly of plants: vegetables, fruit, beans and cereals. You can eat fish and poultry at least twice a week. You don't have to keep away from carbs; in fact, you should have three servings of those a day, particularly of the whole grain variety.
    A glass of wine a day is perfectly fine, too. What you do typically have to limit is the amount of meat, dairy and saturated fat you eat. Cook more with olive oil, as opposed to butter.
    In this study, a higher consumption of fish seemed to make a big difference in keeping your brain young. But if you don't really like fish, scientists at Harvard and Rush University in Chicago created the MIND diet -- a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diet that may be a little bit easier to follow as it requires you to eat less fish and fruit. People who ate a diet close to the MIND diet saw a 53% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's. Even people who ate the MIND diet "most" (as opposed to "all") of the time saw a 35% reduced chance of developing the disease. This is considered a significant result.
    This latest Mediterranean diet research builds on other evidence that the diet is likely the way to go. It has also been shown as a key to helping you live longer. It helps you manage your weight better and can lower your risk for cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.
    Bottom line: you'll likely be physically and mentally healthier long into old age if you stick with this diet.