Refined Foods May Impede Benefits of Mediterranean Diet, Study Finds
- February 11, 2021
Consuming refined foods associated with the Western diet may counteract the benefits of adhering to the Mediterranean diet, according to a new study from the Rush University Medical Center of Chicago.
An observational study was carried out among 5,001 adults aged 65 and older, all of whom were already taking part in the Chicago Health and Aging Project, which is aimed at identifying dietary and other risk factors of cognitive decline in urban populations.
Individuals who had a high Mediterranean diet score compared to those who had the lowest score were equivalent to being 5.8 years younger in age cognitively.- Puja Agarwal, nutritional epidemiologist, Rush University
During the study, the researchers measured the participants’ adherence to the Mediterranean diet regime by keeping a score based on the consumption of food, including fruits, vegetables, olive oil and legumes.
The score was adjusted to reflect the extent the participants deviated from the MedDiet and opted for food typical of a Western diet, such as refined grains and processed meat.
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Then the calculated score was compared with the basic brain functions of the participants, including their cognitive function, episodic memory and perceptual speed, all of which were periodically recorded to examine how these functions were affected by deviation from the MedDiet.
The study results, published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, showed that the participants adhering more closely to the Mediterranean diet exhibited slower cognitive decline compared to those consuming more foods of the Western diet, who had practically no gains in confronting deterioration of cognition.
“Western diets may adversely affect cognitive health,” said Puja Agarwal, a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University and one of the researchers in the study.
“Eating a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains may positively affect a person’s health,” she added. “But when it is combined with fried food, sweets, refined grains, red meat and processed meat, we observed that the benefits of eating the Mediterranean part of the diet seem to be diminished.”
“Individuals who had a high Mediterranean diet score compared to those who had the lowest score were equivalent to being 5.8 years younger in age cognitively,” Agarwal continued.
The results from the study complement previous findings, which showed that the MedDiet can act against diabetes, certain types of cancer and decrease the risk of heart disease, the researchers said.
They added that work in the field is far from over and further longitudinal research is required to examine and establish the connection between cognition and eating habits.