We know that sticking to a healthy diet and a regimen of regular exercise is the key to staying healthy, but there’s more to simply “eating well” than just favoring salads over pizza. New research from medical journal Neurology suggests that eating a Mediterranean diet is not only good for you, but it may prevent brain deterioration as we age.
For the study, researchers examined the brains of 674 people whose average age was about 80. Participants were asked to fill out a survey about what food they had eaten in the last year, and then their brains were scanned. The results showed that people whose diet was heavier in Mediterranean food—mostly plants, fruits, and beans—had heavier brains than those who ate other diets, meaning those on a Mediterranean diet had not suffered as much brain deterioration.
Eating more fish is a key factor in keeping brains healthy. But for people (like me!) who don’t particularly care for fish, the MIND diet, created by Harvard and Chicago’s Rush University, combines Mediterranean foods and other diets that still provide the same nutrients as a Greek diet. Eating the right stuff, like healthy fats and grains, can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
So what goes into a Mediterranean diet? A lot of passion and simple ingredients, says health coach and chef Maria Benardis. She recommends starting meals with a good salad. “The aim of a salad is to stimulate the appetite before a main meal,” she says, which ensures you start to fill up on good stuff and perhaps less of main entrée.
Benardis says to rely on herbs to get the most flavor into a meal without use of things like butter (sigh). She adds herbs to stews, desserts, salads, meat—and she sometimes deep-fries them to get them nice and crispy to be served as a garnish on meals. Another option is to infuse olive oil with herbs to make it more flavorful.
Most importantly, Benardis urges people following a Mediterranean diet to serve greens with every meal—they offer so many nutrients and antioxidants, you’re really missing out by avoiding them! Even Greek children start early on maintaining a healthy diet: they are taught to identify different kinds of greens and how to gather them. You might not have the privilege of living somewhere greens grow wild, but you do probably have a few choices when it comes to choosing greens at the store!
Remember to keep the meal simple: ingredients should work together in harmony, but not overwhelm or destroy one another. Use fresh, simple, and flavorful options—and don’t forget that one glass of wine a day is just fine.